16 September 2006

Mitali Perkins at Wellesley Library

Tomorrow, 17 September, my friend and fellow writer for children Mitali Perkins will speak at the fine Wellesley, Massachusetts, Library (ample parking!) at 2:00. Here's the library's description of the event:

Life Between Cultures
Sunday, September 17, 2006
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Wakelin Room 1

Mitali Bose Perkins was born in Kolkata, India, and immigrated to the United States with her parents and two older sisters. The Bose family lived in Cameroun, Ghana, Mexico, and New York City before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Using a personal, humorous slide show, Mitali shares candidly her experience of growing up between two cultures, explores some of the tensions immigrant kids face, and introduces some of the richness of her Bengali heritage. This family program is suitable for upper elementary and middle schoolers. Kids are encouraged to ask questions, and discussion throughout the presentation sparks lively responses from participants. Free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Wellesley Free Library and World of Wellesley.
Earlier this month, Mitali shared with our writing group her publisher's copy for one of her upcoming novels. Its heroine is a teenaged girl, and the text included that oh-so-trendy word "makeover." It reminded me how one of the least tenable charges against Kaavya Viswanathan was that her How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life had imitated makeover scenes in earlier "chick-lit" novels--not specific phrasing, as in the more substantial complaints, but the very idea of a makeover scene and a young heroine feeling ambivalent about it.

The emptiness of that complaint lies in how a makeover scene has become de rigueur in a certain type of novel. It's like a fight scene in a thriller; yes, it's cliché, but if you don't want to see such a scene you should read another genre. The female makeover scene has a long history: little women have been cutting their hair short in American novels at least since Jo March. Makeovers may be especially acute in novels about young female immigrants like Opal Mehta and some of Mitali's because the immigrant experience so often includes concerns about "becoming American" and "looking American."

The next question: What's the equivalent of the makeover scene in novels for adolescent boys?

1 comment:

Mitali Perkins said...

Thanks for the encouragement, John. The library is indeed beautiful -- all technology was state-of-the-art and all logistics were handled efficiently. Best of all, it was fun!