by Sonia Patel
Cinco Punto Press (October 2016)
Rani is a teenage Gujarati girl living in Hawaii with her hardworking mother and her hardly working father. When her father leaves the family for a younger woman, Rani shaves her head in defiance and seeks solace in her rhymes. As her life gets more and more complicated, hip hop is always there. Rani Patel In Full Effect is about beats, rhymes and the will to overcome every kind of external threat and the internal ones too.
There are a lot of layers to this book and they are all salty-sweet. There is triumph and sadness and the all-too-lovely "What the hell is she doing?" Set in the early 90's there is terminology that I can't be sure is accurate or not and as someone who was not too young during the time I can't remember if everything feels authentic. Because the subculture and setting is so specific this can read like historical fiction. You have to forget the here and now and allow yourself to be transported. Patel gives us smells and tastes that let you know you're on the island, but also that you're in the home of a Gujarati woman and child.
From the first pages we see Rani in crisis. She's just shaved her head and hair is so integral to female identity that we know that this is nothing light. This is more than acting out and whatever has happened it is catastrophic and it proves to be so. In small glimpses we see that the family unit that Rani is so desperate to protect is gnarled and broken in ways that she has yet to grasp. This toxic thing is something she wants and until it's snatched from her without a hope of returning she can't see it for what it is. We go on this journey of realization with her and we have moments of jubilation, usually punctuated with dope rhymes from Rani herself.
It can't be overstated that hip-hop is a big part of Rani's life and the book itself and the fact that it is such a positive force warms my heart to no end. Often anything loved and manufactured by black boys is vilified, but Rani exalts the art form. It is a salve and a holy healing drink. That's dope!
This book is for:
- Music fans
- Anyone who likes a good cry
- Anyone looking for a beach read with enough meat to put a steakhouse out of business
- Rani shaves her head in the first chapter. What do you think she accomplished with this? Was it the same when she cut herself with her nails?
- Rani's father held her on a pedestal and kept her friends away. How was this abuse?
- Rani says hip hop saved her life. How?
- What does Mark see in Rani? What does Rani see in Mark?
- How is Rani like her mother, how is she not?
- Do you think Rani's mother knew what was going on?
- What manifestations of depression did Rani's mother exhibit? How about Rani?
- Do you think Rani has any responsibility to tell the other woman about the abuse now that she is pregnant?
- Mark gets a beating because of what he did to Rani, but was that enough?
If you like this try:
This book so so singularly unique in that it's about a girl who loves hip hop, an Indian girl rocking the mic, a girl dealing with incest and coming out whole on the other end. There aren't any books I can think of that align with the same themes, but there is a book that left me feeling renewed in the same way you feel after a good cry and that is Gabi: Girl in Pieces. It's Gabi's last year in high school and she's got a lot to deal with, a friend's pregnancy, her Dad's meth addiction and dreams that seem out of reach.
Gabi: Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J