Dimple Lala is an ethnic Indian born and raised in the incredibly non-Indian environment of New Jersey, USA, and she’s never had a strong sense of her cultural identity. The summer she turns seventeen all of it begins to change starting with an arranged meeting with a “suitable Indian boy” named Karsh, the son of an old friend of her mother. Dimple rebels against her parents obvious desire for her to settle down with an appropriate boy and stop dating stereotypical American ones, but one night at a South Indian cultural event in New York City opens her eyes to another side of Karsh, one that’s exciting and less suitable that her parents might imagine. At the same time Dimple feels like she’s losing her best friend, Gwyn, to her latest boyfriend, and it’s harder and harder to find a way to bridge the gap. This will be an amazing, complicated summer, and by the first days of fall Dimple will have discovered far more than she thought possible.
The description of Born Confused had me thinking that it was predominantly a love story, but it is so much more. Yes, romance plays a factor in the lives of all the major characters, but this is really a story about learning about your culture to find yourself. As Dimple gradually accepts where her family came from and learns about the South Asian community in nearby NYC she finds a confidence in who she is that many seventeen year olds desperately seek. She also opens herself up to new experiences, bonds more closely with her cousin Kavita (who has her own secrets), and rebuilds a lifelong friendship after both she and Gwyn try to tear it apart. It’s not always a comfortable read because Dimple’s mistakes reminded me of too many I made in my teens, but the ending warmed me inside even if it didn’t promise a happily ever after for anyone.
I cannot directly relate to the strange disconnect between cultural identities that youngsters with immigrant parents face as my family has been in the US for generations (and we’re really, really white). However, the soul searching Dimple experiences throughout Born Confused seemed akin to my teen years as I tried to separate my identity from my parents. I never had to try to decide whether I was more American or something else or a blend of the two, but I believe that all teens have a sense of not belonging; it’s just extra hard if you’re not a dyed in the wool American. Throughout the book I wanted to hug, slap, hold, and cheer Dimple on, so she succeeds admirably as a relatable character. Her journey will touch all readers; it will just have extra special meaning for those who are torn between two worlds as well.
While I liked Dimple I had a hard time understanding her attachment to her blonde haired, blue-eyed friend, Gwyn, who seemed spoiled, selfish, and self-centered for most of the book. She redeemed herself in the end, but the scenes where Gwyn acquired Indian culture and tried to submerge herself in the South Asian community hurt to read. I sympathized with the girl’s search for identity, but many times I felt that Gwyn did exactly what she wanted and just dragged her passive best friend along for the ride. Then again the book is from Dimple’s point of view; Gwyn’s version might be entirely different.
The descriptions of the South Asian club scene in NYC complete with DJs and the Indian shopping centers painted pictures in my mind, especially since Dimple views much of it through the lens of her camera. Everything vibrated with heat and colour despite being printed on a digital page, and the richness of the various environments kept me turning the pages as much as wanting to know how Dimple’s story would finally play out.
Overall, I came away from Born Confused a little sad, a lot happy, and educated about the confusion of being part of two distinct cultural backgrounds. I also got another book with hardcore representation, this time of Indian and South Asian people in the US with a nod to the difficulties of being non-white and LGBTQ. This novel is a great read for anyone who has needed to find themselves, with interest in living Indian in the US, or who shares Dimple’s background. Everyone will come away with more self-knowledge and understanding than they started.
4.5 Bindis out of 5