You Bring the Distant Near
Author: Mitali Perkins
Published By: Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Some time ago, I was offered the opportunity to read a novel about an Indian-American family and their journey spanning three generations. I love reading books that span generations, seeing things through the eyes of different family members from different eras. Somehow, I missed that this was a book for teens, but that didn’t matter – You Bring the Distant Near sounded interesting, so I decided to check it out.
As the book begins, we meet Sonia and Tara Das, two young, very different Indian girls who have moved around a bit before their engineer father decides to move the whole family to America in 1973. Sonia is a quiet, reflective type who likes to write in her journal and spend time in the library. Older sister, Tara, known as Starry, is a natural actress, trying on personalities in order to assimilate into each new home they live in. As the girls struggle to find their way in their new American home, Ranee becomes more and more frustrated with her husband Rajeev and his decisions regarding their family. It takes some harsh words found in Sonia’s diary to get Ranee to understand just how she has been treating her husband and how much pressure she has put on both him and the girls.
Fast forward and the family is moving from their apartment in Flushing, New York to a house in Ridgeford, New Jersey. It is in this new home, Sonny (Sonia) finds her voice, becoming an activist for various causes. Meanwhile, her sister Tara finds her calling in the theater. When their father unexpectedly dies, it is expected that their mother will take them back to Calcutta as is tradition for a widow with two daughters. Surprisingly, taking strength from her daughters, Ranee goes against tradition and decides to remain in America. While Starry pursues her acting career, Sonny becomes involved in a bi-racial relationship, much to the chagrin of her mother.
Fast-forward and Sonny and Lou are happily married with a daughter named Chantal who is popular at school, intelligent and terrific at sports. Meanwhile, Starry is married to another Indian American named Amit and is a star in Mumbai. Starry decides to send their daughter, Anna, back to America to live with her mother and attend high school with her cousin. Anna is a quiet sort who is extremely talented, can sew her own clothes and has a great eye for fashion. Though the cousins have a rough go of it at first, the two eventually become very close and supportive of one another.
Meanwhile, after the incidents of September 11, 2001, Ranee begins to struggle with her identity. She decides to become a citizen and learn the American culture, but her daughters and granddaughters are worried that she will so immerse herself in the American culture that she will lose her own heritage and customs.
I was surprised when I finally realized that You Bring the Distant Near was actually a teen novel. Sure, the story is told through the eyes of the girls as teenagers, but we do see some things through the eyes of Ranee Das as well (toward the end, anyway) and the subject matter is not just kid stuff, though teen novels rarely are these days. I suppose what I am trying to say is that Mitali Perkins’ writing is so captivating and her characters are so real and likeable, that this book is enjoyable for people of any age, including myself (and I’m far…ahem…maybe not too far…from being a teenager). I loved the various pop culture references like Tara attempting to become Marcia Brady and the references to Motown music, Bollywood and more. I loved how the events of 9/11 brought about a fundamental change in Ranee and a need to become closer to the country she had grown to love. I loved seeing events that took place in my lifetime through others eyes and in the perspective of different generations’ eyes.
You Bring the Distant Near is an incredibly enjoyable book that I breezed through – not because of the simplicity of the writing, but because of the captivating writing and characters. This is definitely one book I would recommend to just about anyone, young or old.