Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A NerdsHeart YA Interview With Neesha Meminger

This the second year of the NerdsHeartYA . This year the tournament is looking at under represented YA literature. A few of the shortlisted authors have been interviewed by bloggers turned judges. I am second round judge. I hope people are paying attention to NerdsHeartYa since it feature 2009 YA titles that deserve and need a little more recognition. I have reviewed and enjoyed 15 of the 32 of the very diverse shorlisted titles.

One was Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger It was released in paperback this week. This debut novel came to my attention after reading a guest post Meminger's did at Racialious called On Race and YA Lit After reading Meminger's guest post I wanted to read Shine Coconut Moon. Meminger just has a way with words. My review

Hi Neesha - I suppose everyone doesn't follow your blog. For those who don't please who is Neesha Meminger? And what is Shine, Coconut Moon about?

Neesha Meminger is an Indian-born, Punjabi, Sikh woman who grew up in Canada and now lives in the US with her husband and children.

Shine is about an Indian-American teen who grows up with little knowledge of her family background and history, but after the attacks on September 11th, 2001, her uncle comes back into her life, opening the door to so many of the mysteries of her past.

While I was reading Shine, Coconut Moon, I kept thinking about how different everything felt right after the 9/11 attacks. I saw a lot of American Flags on cars and in houses. Patriotism that can be attributed partly to fear scares me.

Do you think Shine, Coconut Moon being one of the first YA novels set right after 9/11 made it harder or easier to get a publisher?

Hmm, this is a good question. I think some publishers were probably afraid to touch the issue at all. I was lucky to find an editor who connected with the characters and the story, and saw the potential for Shine with teens and older readers, alike.

17-yr-old Samar (Sam) and her mother, Sharan have assimilated into western culture. Neesha, from reading your blog and a few interviews I know you are well acquainted with your South Asian heritage. So why did create two characters who weren't?

Actually, Sharan (the mom) grew up quite immersed in her South Asian-ness. That was part of the reason for her rejection of it. Her culture felt oppressive to her, restrictive. She blamed all of her pain and childhood struggle, in part, to the way her parents raised her - in strict adherence to cultural norms and traditions. And, because she wanted to spare her own daughter the pain of being "different" and alienated, she raised Sam to see herself only as American - as no different from any of her peers. Obviously, it backfired because Sam *wanted* to know more about herself and her history. Growing up without it left her feeling rootless and without community.

And in comes Sandeep who reaches out to his older sister and niece after 9/11. When I think of Uncle Sandeep, I always think of Ah Yuan's review of Shine, Coconut Moon. She's right, there is a lot to love about Uncle Sandeep.

Is it more satisfying to create a main or secondary character readers can relate to or love?

I love that people love some of the characters I've created! I try very hard to put ALL the aspects of my characters on the page - their flaws, their imperfections, their annoying habits, as well as their endearing qualities. They are like the rest of us - multi-faceted, full of contradictions, and still learning. If that's something readers can relate to, wonderful! If not, then that's okay, too. I don't necessarily like everyone I meet, either *smile*.

You said you wrote Shine, Coconut Moon for your daughters. Has your oldest one read it yet?

She is desperate to read it. She has read the first chapter and, since it is geared to ages fourteen and up, she knows she'll have to wait just a little longer to finish it! :) But in saying that I wrote it for my daughters, I meant that both literally and figuratively. I wrote the story for them and their generation - those who were born on this soil and have grown up here. Theirs is a very different experience than those of us who crossed over. We are the bridges and they are the seeds we've planted here.

Our parents were raised and nurtured on the soil of the past and of the other side of the ocean. I wanted to explore what it would be like, for this new generation, to grow up on foreign soil, but soil that was called "home", nonetheless - whether this land accepts them or rejects them, it is home. I wanted to see what it must be like for them to be leaning, like sunflowers toward the sun, to the other side of the ocean for clues as to who they are, where they are from . . . reaching, reaching for echoes of a distant past and getting only fragments.

If you met a mother like Sharan who thought the best way to get along was to blend, what would you say to her?

I would tell her to read my book - ha! LOL. No, seriously - I don't judge any mother's decisions. I might ask her if what she was doing was working for her and for her children. If it was, I would be glad. If it wasn't, I might ask what community, traditions, culture, etc., she was including for her children. Did they feel connected to a community - whatever that might be? Were they secure and comfortable in their identity?

Those are some of the tough questions we "hybrid moms" have to struggle with.
We're a blend of cultures, yet we exist within this push for homogeneity. We raise children among their peers - other children who are often taught to value sameness and punish difference. It's a tough place to be and requires a fine balancing act.

Fiction by South Asian authors is pretty popular. Unfortunately, that popularity doesn't cross over into YA fiction. Why do you think that is?

Thank You for pointing this out. Lately, there have been many discussions online about why there isn't more writing by, for, and about people of colour. I think this industry is changing, but it is s-l-o-w. I think children's/teens books are behind adult books when it comes to representation and diversity, though the numbers there are not great, either. Still, there are more and more people who see this disparity as the glaring problem it is and want things to change.

In terms of South Asian writing, I see a couple of things: 1) South Asians in the US have a very different history than South Asians in Canada and the UK. There is far more South Asian representation in Canada and the UK. More books, more on television, more in films, more in magazines. Part of that is the long history between Britain and South Asia, particularly India. So, Canadians and the British are far more versed in all things South Asian, are more familiar and, perhaps, accepting of South Asians in their cultural products.

Gurinder Chadha, who directed films like Bend it Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach, Bride and Prejudice, The Mistress of Spices and several others, came out of Britain, as did Narinder Dhami, author of the Bindi Babes books (which were made into a television series). South Asians have also made far more headway in cultural products in Canada than in the US, as well. In short, I think the US is allowing its own myopia to swallow opportunities for reaching wider audiences. The engrained belief that certain types of work "won't sell" is simply the result of focusing on a narrow market. There's a whole world out there that wants to read. And not all of it is monochromatic.

Thanks, again, Doret.

Thank you Neesha. Good luck in tournament.


Helen's Book Blog said...

Doret, thanks for the great interview! I really enjoyed Shine, Coconut Moon when I read it a few months ago. Have fun with the judging!

Jeannine said...

I read Shine earlier in the year. It was a fab read and can't wait for more from Ms.Meminger

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Doret, these are such good questions! Wonderful interview. And so interesting about the popularity of South Asian fiction not crossing over into YA. Even some books that I would consider YA (e.g., Rooftops of Tehran) are marketed for adults. Hopefully (or not...) in her next book Neesha will have her protagonist meet up with a vampire so we can see her reach wider audiences! :--)

Tarie Sabido said...

Thank you for this interview, Doret and Neesha! :o)