Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Review: Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier

To say Dimple Lala feels confused would be an understatement. She is convinced that she was born confused, and that confusion is her ultimate destiny. Her parents want her to be more Indian, but she wants to fit in with the other Americans. Everyone else has it all figured out, so they can't possibly understand her, right? Especially her best friend Gwyn, who is beautiful, confident, and dating wannabe film director Dylan, who is already at university. In fact, the only thing Dimple is sure of, besides her love of photography, is her friendship with Gwyn, even though they have been seeing less and less of each other since Dylan arrived on the scene.

It's Dimple's sixteenth birthday that sets everything on the road to change. Gwyn's present is a shiny new fake ID, so they are free to explore the bars and clubs of New Jersey and neighbouring New York together. But then her parents take her shopping, and at the mall, Dimple's mother recognises her old friend Radha, who has moved nearby with her son, Karsh. Dimple's parents decide almost immediately to set her up with Karsh, whilst Dimple cringes at the idea of dating a 'suitable boy'. She resists and complains and is convinced that their first meeting is a disaster, but when she sees him again, at a club night where he is DJing, she starts to doubt her own assumptions, and sort out her confusion.

Born Confused has a great cast of characters. Dimple's parents are brilliant, stern and hilarious by turns. I thought Gwyn was a really interesting (yet frustrating) character - the Rayanne Graff of the story - and Dylan and his best friend Julian were easy to dislike. If I talk about Kavita and Sabina and Zara in any detail I'll probably spoil a few surprises for most readers (though I saw them all coming myself), but I thought they were brilliant, and really quotable!

I'll be honest, the plot is predictable. But plot is only the backbone of this novel. Born Confused is all about the details, and even having guessed what was going to happen, it was still a lot of fun being with Dimple as she figures things out, and the writing is great.

That said, the 478 pages of Born Confused put me off starting it for a long time, and it took me weeks to finish. Now that I'm done I'm not sure that it needed all of that weight - there were some descriptive passages that were lovely but took me out of the story a bit too much - when they finished I couldn't remember what had happened before in the scene. I was flicking pages quite a lot to remind myself of what was going on.

Despite the length of the novel, I thought that some elements of the ending were rushed, particularly those concerning Dimple and Gwyn's friendship, and the issues about cultural appropriation. I also wanted to know more about Kavita's sister and her marriage. I did think that the development of Dimple's relationship with her parents was really well done though, and I love how Radha's stories shook everything up. I also feel that I should mention the punctuation. Speech marks are not used in this book, when a character is talking the sentence starts with a dash instead. E.G. -Hello, she said instead of 'Hello,' she said. This didn't bother me too much but I did find it confusing at first because I didn't realise that the dialogue continued after the next dash, rather than after the 's/he said'.

Born Confused is the second of four books I've read so far this summer set during a summer. I didn't plan to theme my reading, it just happened, and I only realised when I was on the fourth book! Right now I'm reading a fifth, so I think I'm going to have to write a post about this phenomenon, with some more summery summer reading suggestions.

The review of Born Confused at Leaving Shangri-La first inspired me to add this book to my wishlist.

The BookDepository


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it overall--despite its quirks, it's still one of my favorite YA novels.

  2. Never heard of it, but it sounds interesting.

  3. Rie - thanks for the long ago review!

    Grace - it was published quite a while ago now, but luckily my library still had copies!



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