Thursday, July 15, 2021

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

Title: Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood
Author: Varsha Bajaj
Publication: Albert Whitman & Company, hardcover, 2014
Genre: Juvenile fiction
Setting: Houston and Mumbai
Description: Thirteen-year-old Abby Spencer is a normal teen living in Houston with her single mother but she has a deep-rooted yearning to know more about the father she never knew. He and her mother met and fell in love in college but he returned to India before Meredith found out she was pregnant. After Abby has an allergic reaction and the doctor asks for her father’s medical history, Meredith Spencer finally tells Abby about her father and Abby realizes her father is one of India’s biggest Bollywood stars. When Meredith reaches out to tell Naveen Kumar he has a teenage daughter, he is shocked but almost immediately wants to meet her. Abby finds herself flying to Mumbai for a week with a total – but very glamorous – stranger, her father and his exotic world. Can this potentially awkward situation result in what Abby wants most: a real relationship with her newly found father?

My Impression: This is a delightful story about a girl getting to know her father for the first time and exploring another culture that encompasses great wealth and abject poverty. Admittedly, there is a lot of wish fulfillment in Abby’s situation – I doubt that most fathers learning about an unknown teenage daughter are as eager to incorporate her in their lives and are certainly not handsome, rich, charming movie stars! But if you can get past this improbable situation, there is a lot to enjoy about Abby Spencer. She is a charming and self-aware girl who is capable of being horrified by the living conditions of the poor while enjoying a new outfit chosen by her father’s actress girlfriend. She is respectful and friendly to her father’s employees and doesn’t let his affluence go to her head. She acknowledges that she would have liked a Parent Trap solution to her parents’ estrangement but is smart enough to realize that won’t happen. I especially liked that Abby is a musician and but hears a musical backdrop in her head to every situation:
I gnaw my pencil. Ever since I fell in love with the violin, I’ve imagined a string quartet, the full enchilada – a cello, two violins, and a viola – providing a sound track to my life. I told Mom about it and she laughed, “Oh, Abby, you’re funny! Most kids have an imaginary friend. You have a string quartet.”

Mom gets me. It’s always been Mom and me. We go together like the violin and the bow or apples and piecrust. We’d look like clones born twenty-one years apart except her hair is dirty blond and mine is as dark as the night. She says I have my dad’s hair. He’s Indian – as in, from India.
So while this book is not typical of the heritage it is trying to promote or represent, it did provide an entertaining glimpse of another culture and is very different from the historical fiction I enjoy about the British Raj (now frowned on as glorifying Colonial India, which may be true but doesn’t mean they aren’t compelling reads).

Source: Library. July's reading for the de Grummond Book Group was a reader's choice from this Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage reading list.  I requested a couple from the library but this was the first to arrive and just in time for today's discussion!


LyzzyBee said...

Sounds like a good one! What else was on your list from that group of authors? Do you think you'll read any of those if they come in?

Cath said...

This sounds a little bit different for you! Probably not something I would've picked up and I cogitate sometimes on all the excellent books I miss out on because I feel they're not for me for one reason or another.

CLM said...

Well, Cath, the pro of being in a book club is that it motivates you to read outside your usual fare and the con is that sometimes that prevents you from reading something you might prefer. Luckily, this was fun and short.

Lyzzy, I probably won't read anything else on this list right away because I have so many library books out at the moment. However, one book that was noticeably missing from this list was Front Desk by Kelly Yang, a really charming story I read several years ago, about an immigrant Asian-American family being exploited by the motel owner for whom they work. Front Desk won the Asian / Pacific American Award for Children's Literature and quite a few other awards. Unlike many books that win prizes it is a fun and lively depiction of a family as well as a social justice story. I haven't had a chance to read the sequel yet but am looking forward to it.

TracyK said...

Not the type of book I would usually read but it has a very unusual premise. And as you say, an entertaining way to read about another culture.