When her father loses his job and leaves India to look for work in America, Asha Gupta, her older sister, Reet, and their mother must wait with Baba’s brother and his family, as well as their grandmother, in Calcutta. Uncle is welcoming, but in a country steeped in tradition, the three women must abide by his decisions. Asha knows this is temporary—just until Baba sends for them. But with scant savings and time passing, the tension builds: Ma, prone to spells of sadness, finds it hard to submit to her mother- and sister-in-law; Reet’s beauty attracts unwanted marriage proposals; and Asha's promise to take care of Ma and Reet leads to impulsive behavior.
What follows is a firestorm of rebuke—and secrets revealed! Asha’s only solace is her rooftop hideaway, where she pours her heart out in her diary, and where she begins a clandestine friendship with Jay Sen, the boy next door. Asha can hardly believe that she, and not Reet, is the object of Jay’s attention. Then news arrives about Baba . . . and Asha must make a choice that will change their lives forever.
Secret Keeper was unlike any other book I've read. Set in the tumultuous times of 1970's India, we follow the story Asha, her older sister Reet, and their mother as they adjust to life with their in-laws and without their father. Suffocating under the oppressive and strict rule of her Uncle, Aunt, & Grandmother, Asha escapes into her journal writing on the roof and by pushing boundaries. Not comfortable with giving up her liberty, Asha clings to the hope that the day that her father sends for his family will come soon.
Things don't go nearly as smoothly and Asha's patience begins to run out. With options dwindling by the day, she chooses to take matters into her own hands as much as possible. In a setting where her opinion is of little to no value and her place is decided for her, will she ever learn to fit in or will she have to fight for every little thing her father always wanted for her and their family?
I was completely blown away by this book! Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen next, I found myself shocked by what actually happened. It was in those moments that I realized that I had been conditioned to expect certain events to occur in my books. Which if they were set in modern day (or even historical) America, I might have been right. The cultural differences really made this book stand out to me. While some might write off Asha as weak or submissive, I think her actions in this book show great courage when viewed in context.
There was so much more going on under the surface of this book. It was as if every action or event had a double meaning, the meaning for the story and the meaning for society. I think it was beautifully written with just enough contextual clues to give the reader an overview of the historical and cultural importance of events transpiring without bogging down the storyline.
Most importantly, I think this book is a gateway book. I was so engrossed in it that it made me want to read more books like it. These can be the best way to meet new cultures and experience life in someone else's shoes. This book did an incredible job showcasing how teenagers in all societies are really the same because they struggle with themselves and their place no matter what situation they are in. I think I prefer this kind of book that follows someone within their own culture because I think it presents a more multi-dimensional presentation of the society without focusing on the differences between groups.
I hope you'll all take this long weekend (for those of us in the US celebrating Labor Day on Monday) to expand your reading horizons if you haven't done so recently. It's really worthwhile.