Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shine, Coconut Moon

Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger 2009

Rating: 5/5! (I've been reviewing a lot of awesome books lately, I've been lucky!)

I.Q. "I see that we're all, each and every one of us, like little palaces with invaluable, one-of-a-kind treasures inside. And if there's a part of ourselves that we don't claim, whether we forget to, choose not to, or feel forced to, we put that unique, precious piece outside on the porch. And we let the world know we don't want it, it's not welcome inside. Then the world is free to treat that precious valuable in whatever way it wants. But it's still a part of us even though we've closed the door. And at some point we have to come back outside to get it, in whatever shape it's in." Samar.

Beautiful. To me the above quote is absolutely beautiful, almost poetic in nature. I love it (it's a little long I know)! I've been waiting FOREVER to get this book. Well let me just say it was well worth the wait!

Uncle Sandeep is Samar's Sikh uncle who shows up on Samar's doorstep one day, shortly after 9/11. He hasn't seen Samar since she was two, Uncle Sandeep and his parents are estranged from Samar's mom (his sister). Samar is raised by her single mom, who rebelled against her parents strict traditions of their Sikh (Sikh is a religion. Samar is Sikh, Punjabi and Indian) heritage. She left them and never looked back. Samar knows nothing about her Sikh heritage or her family. Uncle Sandeep's appearance makes her want to learn more about her family and heritage. Especially after certain incidents occur against her uncle and Samar is called a coconut. A coconut is someone "who is brown on the outside, white on the inside."

This book made me angry. Angry at all the intolerance and ignorance there is in this world. The whole 'all Muslims/Middle Eastern people are terrorists' stereotype (like many stereotypes) is so dumb, and the people in this book say that but then they make comments toward Samar and her uncle and they aren't even Middle Eastern or Muslim! The incidents in this book made me so mad. I loved the comparison the author drew between the way the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were treated during WWII (with fear and ignorance, being put in internment camps) and the way Americans were reacting with fear and paranoia about Muslims after 9/11. I'd thought the same thing myself. The coconut label made me sad. It's the Indian (I think) equivalent of the African American "oreo" (black on the outside, white on the inside). How many people have been called oreos just because they try to get an education and talk properly? I understand why you might be called a coconut or oreo if you don't know your heritage, but if you want to learn it (like Samar) than you shouldn't be called a 'coconut' that just makes you more afraid to branch out and meet people like you and learn. You fear that they will just see you as a 'coconut' and dismiss you. Same goes for so-called 'oreos'. Another issue that other ethnicities can relate to is the colorism issue (light is better than dark, you want to be light not dark). I'm not sure if this is an issue in all the Asian and Native American communities, but it definitely is in the Latino, African American and apparently Indian community. Samar's grandmother and mother both mention the topic. It was enlightening to me, because I didn't know that Indians viewed having lighter skin as being better than having dark skin. Yet another issue that needs to be addressed. *sigh*

My favorite character was Uncle Sandeep. He was so wise, calm and brave. He would rock as an uncle (mine is pretty cool too though!)! I really admire him for taking the first step in trying to get back into his sister and nieces life. That takes courage and humility.

I learned a lot from this book. For example, some Sikh families don't allow shaving. So girls that means no shaving legs or armpits, boys have beards. I can't imagine not being able to shave my armpits at least! Some of the rules seemed strict to me (there were times when I was reading this book that I told myself that I would leave my family if they didn't allow me to do x,y,z), but I reminded myself that I'm an outsider and I shouldn't judge. This book will open your eyes to a new culture and way of thinking. A book like this needed to be written, thank you Mrs. Meminger for writing it! I highly recommend this book. 8th grade and up.

*Side note: I updated my contest to add that if you list a cast for AWAM, use and leave me the link!


  1. Great review! I've got this book on hold at the library and can't wait to pick it up...and you're right: skin-bleaching products are sold throughout the world--Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, Central America...very sad, indeed.

  2. Having lived in Singapore for a couple of years, and being married to a Philipino, I can assure you that the "lighter skin is better" applies to many of the Asian cultures as well. Some of my coworkers used the skin-bleaching products, assuring me that this is what we used in America. I assured them that we didn't - we wanted tans! I also learned that the Chinese equivalent to Oreo or coconut was "banana". It is very sad.

  3. Ari,

    Great review! You addressed the same issues that stuck out for me. Thrilled about the connections you make to our treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. I live in Detroit. After 9/11, third and fourth generation Arab Americans were rounded up like cattle. I couldn't believe this country was repeating its ugly past behavior. Don't get me started on racial profiling. Even if Sam were Muslim or Arab, why should she be shunned? The bigotry and intolerance really pissed me off, too.

    I currently live among a large Indian population and yeah, colorism is an issue and I've read as much in multiple YA books about South Asian teens.

    For me oreo and coconut refers to those who reject their culture and not simply someone who wants to be educated and do more.

    I think this is the best review I've read on this to date. And I don't say this because I like rather because of the points you highlight. You focus on the social commentary that is critical to us addressing how we treat and feel about each other.


  4. Wow thanks Zetta and Pam for that info. It's so sad that colorism is such a big deal. Love the skin you're in! Banana, coocnut, oreo. grr!
    Thanks susan I think this is one of my best reviews to date as well.

  5. Ari,

    All of your reviews add something new to the discussions of the works. I meant I think this is the best review of Shine that I've read. Others were hugely summaries but yours highlights why this book is important, and you point out what Neesha adds to the discussion about race, culture and intolerance.

  6. I haven't read many reviews of Shine coconut moon but find myself intrigued by your review, it is very well done. Thank-you


  7. I've actually never seen this book before, but with your really positive review, I think I might have to check it out. Thanks.


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