Shine, Coconut Moon
By Neesha Meminger
Published 2009 by Margaret K. McElderry
Oh, I so don't want to write this review. Because I feel terrible about it. Really. Truly. I feel bad about how I felt about this book. Meminger is another author that popped onto my radar because of the upcoming ALA conference. And I should preface this by saying that I actually wanted to read her other title (Jazz in Love) but couldn't find a copy at my local libraries. The premise of that book sounded more up my alley and had been well-reviewed on a book blog I follow (actually, they loved both of her titles). But I got this book instead. And I sort of wish I hadn't.
See, I really wanted to like this book. This feels like one of those "important" books - it takes place very shortly after September 11th and touches on many issues of xenophobia, race relations, and fitting in as a "brown" American after the attacks. It really seemed like good things should have been happening in this novel. BUT unfortunately, this novel is a big pile of crap. Sam is perhaps the worst female protagonist I have read in a long time. I understand she has some issues - she was raised by a single parent and her mother has cut her off from her extended family. But these pre-existing conditions, if you will, do not explain why Sam is totally unsympathetic to her mother's feelings, full of crazy mood swings, and a complete moron. Sam can best be described as reactionary - she takes every single happening and has an insanely overblown reaction to it - except for the things that she should be really reacting to. Oh, your boyfriend has turned into a semi-racist jerk who decides to stalk you after you dump him? Well, that's not as big of a deal as the fact that some girl you barely know called you a "coconut". In what world does that make sense? Not in mine. The main drive of this book is that Sam's estranged uncle Sandeep, a traditional Sikh man, reappears in her life after the terrorist attacks, compelling Sam to learn more about her Indian heritage. That is great - everyone should know about where they come from, I think. But Sam sort of gets obsessive and unreasonable - demanding her mother let her get in touch with her grandparents, who have clearly scarred Sam's mom in some way. The way Sam goes about learning her heritage is essentially through force and seems like the entirely wrong way to me. Additionally, I feel like Sam goes to the high school of the United Nations. This is an incredibly diverse school. I'm sure schools like this exist; they are just out of my realm of experience. However, what bothers me most about this is that I can tell how diverse this school is because of the names Meminger has given her characters. Every ethnic character has a name that matches their ethnicity. Now, I hope I'm not coming off wrong here by saying this. I understand that lots of people of color have names that represent their heritage. But I also know that lots of people of color have Biblical names, or European names, or names from other heritages. You would never know that from reading Meminger's novel. I don't know. It's just a small thing that, when added to every other terrible thing about this book, really bothered me. Finally, the ludicrous plot developments that occur. Sam's boyfriend, for example. And then the finale of the novel, Uncle Sandeep's accident. These things just seemed a bit much. I feel like the point Meminger was trying to make could have been accomplished without going to such extremes.
All in all, this novel was, for me, laughably bad. Poorly executed and flat, I felt terrible hating it because I wanted Meminger to do well. But I just think she failed.