Just about any teenager has probably felt the way Sam—short for Samar—feels when she tells her uncle, “”I feel like the epitome of different—from everyone. I feel like there’s no one else like me on this whole planet’” (74). In some ways, Meminger creates a protagonist anyone can relate to. Yet at the same time, she creates a protagonist who’s rarely found in the pages of most YA books.
For a long time, it’s been just Sam and her mother. Sam has a best friend, Molly, who befriended her when she was being bullied not long after she moved to their New Jersey town. What Molly has, what Sam longs for, is a big raucous family: cousins and grandparents and aunts, stories and traditions and histories. But Sam’s mother has cut Sam off from the rest of their traditional Sikh family. Then, just a week after September eleventh, two things happen that make Sam question the distance she’s always accepted between herself and her extended family: Sam’s Uncle Sandeep shows up on her doorstep, and an Indian-American classmate calls her a “coconut”--brown on the outside and white on the inside. Suddenly Sam doesn’t know who she is, and her confusion parallels the confusion sweeping the whole country. Things are shaken, they have yet to settle, and no one’s really sure where to turn for the answers.
Just as our country hasn’t fully emerged from the confusion, Meminger doesn’t pretend that every one of Sam’s problems can be solved. But she does provide a lot of hope in these pages. There’s the bright spot of Sam’s friendship with Molly, a friendship that survives some pretty uncomfortable truths. There’s Uncle Sandeep, who lifts the novel with his kindness and his determination in the face of hate. There’s Sam’s realization when she attends a service at her uncle’s gurdwara, or temple:
It dawns on me, clear as the summer sky, how wrapping a turban, speaking the language of your parents’ parents’ parents’ and celebrating the same holidays that everyone before you celebrated are all like little thank-yous to those who survived. Those seemingly small things are a long-held memory whispered from the lips of the past into the ear of the future. (81)
Thank you to Neesha Meminger for this hopeful book, a novel that gives voice to characters who have nearly enough space on the shelves of our bookstores and libraries, a novel that’s worth all the beauty and shine of its amazing title. Thank you.
[Meminger, Neesha. Shine, Coconut Moon. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009.]