- American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Library ed. ISBN 9781984897169 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9781984897152 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781984897176 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys R Gr. 10–12
Eighteen-year-old Rani Kelkar works hard to be the perfect Indian-American daughter, leaving little room to pursue her talent for photography. When she meets Oliver at a student art show, they bond quickly over shared passions, and an ardent love affair begins, despite Rani’s certainty that her parents would never approve. Caught up in the heady pleasures of first love, Rani increasingly ignores red flags as Oliver dismisses her concerns about her parents, belittles her culture, and transgresses against her boundaries. As his chaotic home life deteriorates, he demands more of Rani’s attention, pushing their relationship to the brink, until a final betrayal and family tragedy place Rani on a plane to India. With its powerful tale of a cross-cultural relationship gone wrong, this novel complicates the common love-conquers-all narrative, balancing the excitement of forbidden romance with a thoroughly grounded portrayal of microaggressions, gaslighting, and cultural fetishization. Oliver is initially easy to like, but as his manipulations grow more intense, the novel decisively challenges the trope of the white lover who frees the girl from her repressive culture. Rani meanwhile is no victim, instead drawing strength from family, community, and best friend, making this a celebration of feminist allyship. Detailed scenes of lovemaking are both realistic and sex-positive, even as the relationship descends into dysfunction. A thoughtful and compelling read, it’s also a valuable conversation starter about cultural identity amid the complexities of sex, love, and respect.