Mira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari
As one-quarter of a school writing class (led by an author named Miss Print!), Mira finds her voice – silently at first through the diary she’s encouraged to keep, then in the laughter that refuses to be stifled, and finally in the words that burst forth surprising Mira most of all.
As Mira watches her 74-year-old grandmother weaken from cancer, Mira bears witness to her Nana’s indomitable spirit, never letting go of her sense of fun, justice, and boundless love for her family and friends. Nana gifts her favorite charm to Mira on her birthday: a tiny artichoke that represents Nana’s long life with more than enough room to hold Mira’s future.
As Mira tries on her sparkly birthday skirt – another gift from Nana – she realizes her period has arrived, physical proof that she’s no longer the little girl the adults still believe her to be. Perhaps not quite ready herself, Mira doesn’t tell a soul – not about that, and not about her butterfly-inducing feelings for a boy with the alliterative name of Jidé Jackson.
British author Sita Brahmachari‘s debut novel (titled Artichoke Hearts on the other side of the Pond, and winner of Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize in 2011) is an emotionally charged, deeply resonating journey of a hapa Jewish Indian British girl coming-of-age in the midst of saying goodbye to one of the most important adults in her life. While Mira dreads losing Nana, she begins to claim distance from those to whom she has always been closest as she moves toward new maturity, including the uncontrollable pull of first love. Her cocooned, comfortable London daily life faces harsh new realities, not only with Nana’s impending death (although not without joy and humor as she helps her eccentric artist grandmother paint her own coffin!), but as she learns of surprising, even shocking details of her classmates’ lives, from missing parents to surviving the Rwandan genocide.
Brahmachari’s story is symphonic in scope, effortlessly melding elements as surprising as beatniks, Frida Kahlo, Margaret Thatcher, ethnic pride, hospice care, a foundlings puppy named Moses, and so much more. One tiny quibble kept running through my mind as I rapidly turned the pages – that Mira and her contemporaries seemed far more mature than their 12 years, not just as characters, but in their writing assignments with which they are credited; 14 or 15 might have been a more convincing age, but then, who’s counting?
Brahmachari has clearly drawn elements from her own life as well, from her hapa-ness inherited from her Indian doctor father and her English nurse mother (Mira’s maternal grandparents also match those descriptions), to Mira’s last name (the photo credit on Brahmachari’s author pic reveals one “Martin Levenson”). Perhaps those overlaps with the ‘real’ is why Mira proves to be such a convincing, effective, tissue-pulling work of truth-filled fiction.
Tidbit: Check out that cover. “[B]rown skin” is how Mira is described multiple times. Assuming that’s supposed to be our protagonist … uhhhhh … what happened??!!!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2011, 2013 (United States)