Ravi is brand new to his New Jersey classroom, straight from Bangalore. His teacher claims not to understand him when he talks and sends him with the Resource Room teacher with Joe, who has Auditory Processing Disorder, which makes Ravi furious. He’s sure he’s found a friend in Dillon Samreen, the only other Indian in his class (even though he’s an ABCD), but the teacher’s actions, not to mention Dillon’s natural malevolence, undermine their friendship. The story alternates between Ravi’s point of view and Joe’s, which shows aspects of each boy’s culture through their own eyes and through the eyes of an outsider, which was a really neat device and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. There’s even two glossaries at the back, one for words from Ravi’s world and one for words from Joe’s world, and some of them are defined in the other’s terms, like “Trunk: storage area at the rear of a vehicle, in India known as a dickey or boot” or “Baseball: an American game similar to cricket.” Ravi also makes it well known to the reader both how to pronounce his name (emphasis on the second syllable) and how important it is to him. Joe is the first person outside Ravi’s family to get his name right, and Ravi notices.
The story takes place over one week, Ravi’s first week of school. His singleminded focus on Dillon leads him to think Dillon is nice and Joe is mean and stupid, but luckily he comes to his senses by the end of the week, especially when Dillon tricks him into eating beef, which he explains is a sin for Hindus. The students are given an assignment to bring in an object that represents them, which brings Ravi and Joe together against Dillon and they become friends. This is what I love about middle grade fiction; everything ties up neatly and people learn things about themselves and how to get along.
Other interesting things about this story in particular: Joe’s dad is away driving a truck a lot, but when he is there, he spouts some hate against immigrants, but sort of redeems himself with a loving note to Joe, which was interesting. Joe’s mom takes a job at his school as a cafeteria employee, which embarrasses him to no end, especially once Dillon gets wind of it. Ravi’s teacher also displays some bias against him, mispronouncing his name, disregarding how he has been taught (especially math) and telling him she can’t understand him due to his accent. When she says English is not his native language, she shows her own (and many Americans’) ignorance; however, this exchange and others show a lot of nuance in our multicultural society. To Americans’ ears, the Indian accent is quite different and can be hard to understand, even if you have heard it a lot. Ravi also shows he is quite defensive and quick to anger when it comes to insulting his intelligence or social standing, but he realizes that his teacher is not always wrong about him. Overall, the nuance in particular is very well done and is a testament to how well these two authors work together to show both cultures.