Tamarind and the Star of Ishta

Chicken House/Scholastic/. Jun. 2022. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338769432.
Gr 3-6–Tamarind finds herself facing all kinds of new things. First, Tamarind’s father marries a white woman. Then, while they honeymoon in India, she is left in Punjab with her mother’s family, whom she hasn’t seen since her mother’s death when she was an infant. Life with her relatives in the Himalayan mountains is fraught while getting to know her cousins and learning more about her mother. Tamarind, described as having golden skin like her father, is incredibly disconnected from her Indian cultural roots because of her upbringing in Bristol. However, she has her father and paternal grandparents nearby. When introduced to Indian foods, clothes, and customs, Tamarind, and by extension, readers, see these as exotic and othering even as the story pushes into the fantastical. An author’s note includes Bilan’s inspiration to incorporate a mythical garden where Tamarind could connect with her missing mother. Ultimately, this story is about self-discovery and identity, though it lacks character development and authenticity in the primary and secondary characters. The pacing is inconsistent and may be confusing to readers.
VERDICT With an increase in Southeast Asian representation in middle grade fantasy, readers are best directed to other titles. Not recommended as a first purchase.

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