Samar is Indian-American and has spent her life not knowing any of her family except her mother. When her uncle shows up a few days after the September 11th attacks, everything changes. Samar begins to question her past and wants to learn more about her family and her heritage. At the same time, suspicion increases against non-white Americans, and Samar finds herself at the center of some really awful prejudice.
I was really happy to hear about this book when Melissa reviewed it a few months ago. The discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, Indians, and “brown” people in general that popped up after 9/11 has always really bothered me. Everyone from certain parts of the world is suddenly considered a terrorist or a potential terrorist, and that really makes me angry. It makes me angry that when Nidal Malik Hasan attacked Fort Hood, he was automatically labeled a terrorist because of his nationality, before anyone even knew why he attacked, but when Andrew Joseph Stack flew a plane into the IRS building in Austin, he was automatically excused of the label because he was white. If Stack hadn’t been white, our country would have automatically vilified him and tried to connect him to Al-Qaida. That’s just to give one example.
So yes. This is an issue that I pay a lot of attention to, so I knew I had to get my hands on this book as soon as I could. I finally got to read it, and loved every page.
One of the primary themes in Shine, Coconut Moon is prejudice, and that’s the theme I want to concentrate on here. Prejudice takes many different forms, and many of them are addressed in the book. I’m feeling a little brain-dead at the moment, so instead of writing them all out, I’m just going to bullet-point list examples. Forgive my laziness.
- Samar’s Uncle Sandeep, who wears a turban, is harassed, threatened, and insulted because of the way he looks and the clothes he wears.
- Because Samar knows nothing about her heritage and doesn’t go out of her way to hang out with other Indian-Americans at school, they call her a coconut and discriminate against her.
- Because the other Indian-Americans at school hang out in a single group instead of with the white kids, Samar dismisses them as potential friends.
- Samar judges other kids based on a couple facts she knows about them, rather than getting to know them personally.
- Samar’s grandparents are racially biased against darker Indians and prefer lighter skin. They claim they cannot change this because it is the way they grew up.
- Samar’s mother is biased against her parents, family, and heritage for multiple reasons and refuses to give them a chance, judging them all based on things she suffered through many decades earlier.
- A character named Balvir wishes Sikhism wasn’t lumped in with Islam, so that the discrimination against the Sikhs would stop, but is then confronted by another character, Shazia, a Muslim who asks if prejudice would be more acceptable directed only towards some innocent people instead of many.
- There is discussion about racial prejudice used as fodder for TV shows and in the media.
- Lastly, there is reference to governmental hysteria and the Japanese internment camps around WWII, an extreme form of blanket racial prejudice.
While not all of these forms of prejudice can realistically get better, many of the characters come to understand their own biases and discrimination. They learn and they grow in a very believable and realistic way.
Beyond prejudice, this book is also about finding yourself, learning the truth about history, the importance of family, religious growth, and friendship. I wish I could talk about all these things, particularly the limited scope of history taught in schools – Texas Board of Education, anyone? – and the balance between keeping your cultural heritage and assimilating into a new culture. If I talk about each one of them, however, this review will be far, far longer than anyone will want to read. Instead I’ll just have to encourage people to get a copy of it and read it! This is a book that itches for discussion. I expected to like it, but I didn’t expect to get so much out of it, or for it to make me think as much as it did.