First Second, 2017 169 pages
As Priyanka (or as she prefers to be called, Pri) enters adolescence everything seems to be changing. Her single-parent mother is getting on her every last nerve, her favorite uncle is expecting a baby and has less time for her, and she is suddenly questioning the whereabouts of her father and wants to learn more about her mother's mysterious past. Pri's only solace comes from drawing comics and her relationship a fellow artist at school and a supportive teacher. Prayers to her favorite goddess concerning her uncle's baby lead to unexpected results and guilt, relieved only when she finds a hidden pashmina in her mother's closet. When Pri wraps the beautiful scarf around herself she is suddenly transported to India where she is led around the gorgeous and colorful country by a friendly elephant and bird. But who is the mysterious shadow following their adventures? When Pri wins an art contest she chooses to use the prize money for a trip to India and Mom reluctantly agrees, sending Pri to stay with an aunt she never knew she had. Once in India, the country is different than the magical place of her pashmina fantasies. A journey with her aunt reveals the truth about her & Mom's past as well as the magic behind the intricate scarf.
New to the semi-autobiographical-comics-for-tweens genre made popular by Raina Telegemeier, Chanani adds some much needed diversity to the field with this adventure featuring an Indian-American. Pri struggles with belonging to both, yet fully to neither, cultures and the reader experiences what life is like bridging these two distinct lifestyles. Very little is written about the Indian-American experience for young people and coming from a community with a large Indian-American population, I am thrilled to see this population represented. I know so many girls to pass this book onto I don't know who to give it to first. The story is a bit reminiscent of American Born Chinese in that it deals with cultural identity within a magical format. The magic in the book is rich and believable, adding dimension to a typical coming-of-age tale. Besides the fantasy element, the story has a mystery to solve concerning the history of the scarf, Mom’s secret past and the identity of the fantasy shadow-person. All mysteries are solved and Pri is in a better and more mature place than where she started. Chanani is a capable artist and her illustrations are well-drawn and easy to follow. The use of color helps to tell the story. Pri's real life is black and white, while her India fantasy life goes into full color. The story of a mysterious figure from the past is told in sepia tones with dashes of color for emphasis. A wonderful and much needed addition to the genre that will attract readers of all ethnicities.