Talk about spunky! Paula J. Freedman’s debut novel, My Basmati Bar Mitzvah, is a charming coming of age book with just the right dash of tension and romance. Twelve-year-old Tara Feinstein’s voice will charm you as she comes to grips with cultural identity, friendship, and changing relationships.
The story begins during the fall before her bat mitzvah, just as Tara commits herself officially to “going through” with the ritual. She’s gone to religious school for only two years, and has a lot of questions about what it means to be part Indian part Jewish. Right away, Tara finds herself with a lot of concerns. First, of course, is her Torah portion and the plans leading up to her bat mitzvah. She’s also concerned with regular things, like her best friend and possible boyfriend, Ben‑o, as well as her other best friend, Rebecca, who is suddenly interested in befriending the obnoxious and impulsive, if not slightly stereotypical, Sheila Rosenberg.
What makes this novel sing is Tara’s voice. This girl is real. She is stubborn. She is loyal. Even when the tension is at its highest, she is completely likable and the reader will cheer for her to get what she wants. The only issue that could make a reader pause is that it appears that her studies begin in the fall for a December bat mitzvah. This seems a bit rushed, and under the constraints of the novel, slightly unrealistic. Clearly, Freedman had loftier, more inclusive goals than the actual studying, but for those in the midst of the process, they might just scream foul!
That said, readers who love multi-cultural stories will love this book for its good humor, new romance, charming tone, and satisfying conclusion. They will enjoy watching her cultures intersect. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah doesn’t strive to be overly profound, but it completely succeeds as a fun and charming coming-of-age story.
Highly recommended for ages 10 – 14.