Title: SHINE, COCONUT MOON
Author: Neesha Meminger
Release Date: Out Now (March 10, 2009)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Received: Purchased at author signing (Books of Wonder 2011 Diversity Tour Stop)
Seventeen-year-old Samar -- a.k.a. Sam -- has never known much about her Indian heritage. Her mom has deliberately kept Sam away from her old-fashioned family. It's never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a really cute but demanding boyfriend.
But things change after 9/11. A guy in a turban shows up at Sam's house, and he turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam isn't sure what to do, until a girl at school calls her a coconut -- brown on the outside, white on the inside. That decides it: Why shouldn't Sam get to know her family? What is her mom so afraid of? Then some boys attack her uncle, shouting, "Go back home, Osama!" and Sam realizes she could be in danger -- and also discovers how dangerous ignorance can be. Sam will need all her smarts and savvy to try to bridge two worlds and make them both her own.
September 11th changed the lives of a lot of people, and we're still dealing with the fallout ten years later. To honor today, this weekend I finally cracked open my copy of SHINE, COCONUT MOON by Neesha Meminger, which takes places four days after September 11, 2001. This book doesn't revolve around the horrific events of that day, but because of what happened, a teen named Samar (Sam for short) finds her life changing in ways she never saw coming. Her mother has never taught her much about her Indian heritage or the Sikh culture she comes from. On Saturday, September 15th, Sam's Uncle Sandeep shows up on her doorstep, turban and all. Sam hasn't seen him since he gave her a Winnie-the-Pooh blanket when she was an infant; the family became estranged after her parents divorced. But Sandeep is here now. The events of the week have made him realize just how important family is.
As Sandeep becomes a part of her life, Sam finds herself wanting to know things she never did before. Her mother did an excellent job raising him to assimilate and be like everyone else, but Sam wishes she knew more about her heritage and where she came from. She wants a family to connect to and is envious of her friend Molly's large, boisterous Irish family. One day at school, a fellow Indian student calls Sam a coconut--brown on the outside, white on the inside. She'd never really realized that she didn't fully fit into either world before. After her uncle's arrival, Sam's eyes are also opened due to the hatred displayed in the world around her. Guys from school throw things at Sandeep's car because he's wearing a turban, Molly's family looks at him--and perhaps her--with suspicious eyes, and she even begins having issues with her boyfriend Mike.
SHINE, COCONUT move is a book about identity and finding yourself. It deals with Sam's struggles during her senior year after a national crisis forever changed her outlook on life. Towards the end of the novel, Sam reflects that:
"The first school year after the Trade Center attacks, America moved on: shopping, working, loving, growing--almost back to usual. But something fundamental had changed, deep inside the nation, and the world. Deep inside me and everyone I knew. Nothing would ever be the same. Something had died, and we needed to spill the ashes to allow the most dazzling specks to come back and burrow hemselves under our skin."
I really enjoyed following Sam on her quest and learning more about a culture that I was previously unfamiliar with. Sam had a strong relationship with her best friend Molly that only deepened throughout the novel, as did her relationships with her mother and uncle. This book is really all about family and finding yourself and discovering your place in the world. It pays homage to the tragedy of September 11th in a tasteful way, never sensationalizing anything and making it the perfect book to read this week.
This cover is fun and breezy. It's very contemporary and featues a girl wearing a lot of funky jewelry. The back cover further hints at Sam's heritage by featuring traditional artwork. I'm not a fan of the fact that there's a guy on the cover alongside Sam because it makes the cover seem more like this is going to be a fun, flirty romance. There's no way that guy is Uncle Sandeep. I love the largeness of the word SHINE, and the way it stands out against the rest of the title, COCONUT MOON, despite being semi-transparent. Combined with the sub-title "It isn't always easy to find your true self," it makes it clear that being different...and unique...and YOU is okay, no matter what. I love the way all of this is expressed in the title just by using two different treatments. I also love the splashy peach-orange color used for the author's name, which fits well with the fun jewelry. Overall, this cover looks GREAT, though perhaps too light for a book that is so much about discovery.