Author: Nikita Lalwani
Release Date: September 11, 2007
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
From the dust jacket:
Rumi Vasi is 10 years, 2 months, 13 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds old. She’s figured that the likelihood of her walking home from school with the boy she likes, John Kemble, is 0.2142, a probability severely reduced by the lacy dress and thick woolen tights her father, and Indian émigré, forces her to wear. Rumi is a gifted child, and her father, Mahesh, believes that strict discipline is the key to nurturing her genius if the family has any hope of making its mark on its adoptive country.
Four years later, a teenage Rumi is at the center of an intense campaign by her parents to make her the youngest student ever to attend Oxford University, an effort that requires an unrelenting routine of study. Yet Rumi is growing up like any other normal teen: her mind often drifts to potent distractions . . . from music to love.
Rumi’s parents want nothing other than to give Rumi an exceptional life. As her father outlines ever more regimented study schedules, her mother longs for India and forcefully reminds Rumi of her roots. In the end, the intense expectations of a family with everything to prove will be a combustible ingredient as an intelligent but naive girl is thrust into the adult world before she has time to grow up.
In her stunningly eloquent debut novel, Nikita Lalwani pits a parent’s dream against a child’s. Deftly pondering the complexities and consequences that accompany the best intentions, Gifted explores just how far one person will push another, and how much can be endured, in the name of love.
I had really mixed feelings as I was reading Gifted. On one hand, I didn’t really like most of the characters, but on the other hand, I recognized them. About halfway through the book, I re-interpreted how I was reading the novel. I still saw it as a coming-of-age story, but I started reading it as a satire. Once I did, I found a lot more enjoyment in it than I would have otherwise.
Overall, Gifted is a coming-of-age story of a very confused Indian teenager. Despite that, I wouldn’t consider it a book for teenagers. There’s nothing in it that’s inappropriate or anything like that, but the book just seems directed much more towards adults.
I’m honestly not sure if the book was meant as a satire. However, I saw Rumi’s parents as caricatures of many typical Indian parents – they pushed their daughter beyond belief and expected her to live out their dreams. They didn’t stop for once to question what their daughter might actually want. Indian parents are often like this, though not as bad as Rumi’s parents. I wonder if it was written as a satire on Indians; if so, it’s successful!
While Gifted did amuse me, I found the book heartbreaking more than anything else. I hated how much Rumi was pushed to accomplish feats she did not want to, and how she was unable to communicate with either of her parents. I hated how Rumi’s father seemed to think of her as his property, rather than loving her as his daughter. She just wanted to be a typical teenager, to experience things for herself. Every time she tried to tell her father that she was unhappy, he would try to turn it around and make her seem ungrateful. The worst part was that Rumi’s father honestly thought he was doing what was best for her, when in reality he was alienating her and forcing her through his dreams.
I thought Gifted was well-written, but in the end I had no idea what it was trying to be. It was good, but not great. Still, if you are interested in coming of age stories or relations between parents and children, especially those of different cultures, you probably will enjoy this book. Just keep in mind that I consider Rumi’s parents caricatures – all Indian parents are not like this!