Neela is 11. She does well in school, she loves music and potato chips. Her little brother is kind of pesky, her dad tells corny jokes, and her mom has been known to wear some outrageous outfits on laundry day. Sounds just like you, right? The one difference is that Neela is Indian American.
In Vanished, the author Sheela Chari does just what her mom encourages Neela to do with her new American life: Take the best that both cultures have to offer. Be both Indian and American.
I love that about this story. Yes, Neela and her family are a little different. Their names are different, some of the foods they eat are different, and visiting grandma doesn’t mean a long car trip, but an overseas plane trip to India. The music she loves is played on a veena, an old-fashioned Indian instrument. But it is because kids will also relate to this family that they will learn to appreciate some of the differences, or perhaps they won’t even seem any different than the fact that one sibling likes pepperoni pizza and the other likes cheese.
Vanished isn’t a preachy tale meant to raise awareness, or a novel with a multi-cultural agenda built in, but because the main character is different than your standard middle-class American child, it’s an opportunity to absorb some culture. That’s one reason I love to read multi-cultural literature myself, and I think that the same stands for this middle-grade novel.
But without a good plot and fun characters, the story wouldn’t hold anyone’s attention. Fortunately Chari delivers a fun mystery with themes of family, identity, friendship and more. When Neela’s veena vanishes (say that 3 times fast!), she knows that something is amiss. She’s got to figure it out. As she investigates, with the help of her friends of course, she uncovers some information about the veena. Perhaps it wasn’t her fault that it disappeared after all. It might be cursed!
NOTE TO PARENTS: There’s nothing objectionable in this book for older middle grade readers. There is one mild swear word spoken by an adult, and narrator Neela even comments how she felt grown up to be trusted with such language, indicating that she knows it’s not an 11-year-old word. That made this book feel even more authentic to me, because in fact they do hear swear words quite frequently. This book felt very plot-heavy. It held my interest as an adult. Some of the things involved in their search for the veena were a bit of a stretch from reality, but that makes it a fun adventure! That said, I would recommend Vanished to a more mature reader (10 and up) who enjoys this type of read.
I was a little disappointed that the cover seems to white-washed. Why not give lovely Neela a bit of a tan? At best, she looks like a light-skinned Hispanic. Regardless, it’s nice to see novels that truly represent the changing face of American culture, such as this one.
Jennifer Donovan enjoys middle grade fiction even if she’s not sharing it with one of her children. It’s a lovely escape. She blogs at Snapshot when she’s not escaping into books.
White washing the covers seems to be becoming a bigger problem recently.
Yeah, or there’s been more attention/awareness of it. Like I said this cover could be somewhat ethnic, but an Indian girl would most likely be a few shades darker.
Pam ( says
Too bad about the cover but I do like the idea of the inside of the book.
Yeah, it’s a fun story, and I like Neela as the main character a lot.