Mira in the Present Tense is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age story, complete with richly delineated characters who are worthy of the reader’s respect. Mira is a member of a close family, consisting of her Indian mother, her Jewish father, her younger brother Krish, and her baby sister Laila, plus several aunts and uncles, and her special grandmother, Nana Josie. Her relationship with Nana Josie is especially close. Josie is beautiful, artistic, rebellious and outspoken; she loves color and fabrics and finishes the family’s clothes with striking trims. She is also currently very ill with cancer and chooses to order a custom-made casket for herself so that she can be involved in preparations for her end. Grandma and Mira paint the casket with bright colors completing a picture of the sea with its waves, with a dolphin leaping out of the waves.
An early morning writing group of Mira’s peers allows us to meet a group of four sensitive pre-teenagers, including a fascinating and smart boy from Rwanda who has survived the terrible fighting there, but has lost his nuclear family. Through Jide, Mira is exposed to political and human inequities and learns to appreciate the strength that survivors bring with them. She is also fortunate to develop a close boyfriend relationship with him. The teacher of the writing group, Pat Print, is an open and caring adult who empowers her students and treats them in a respectful fashion.
Mira crosses from childhood to increased maturity through the progression of the story. She gets her period for the first time, deals with bullying, and bonds with her Nana during her grandma’s final days in a hospice. The reader gets to share Mira’s deepest and most private thoughts on a regular basis by reading the diary that Mira keeps. There are Jewish protagonists but no significant Jewish content in the book. It is a beautiful, well-written novel that will appeal to readers and is recommended for ages 10- 14.