America Is For Beginners by Leah Franqui
"I don't want to talk about my father," Bhim said, gently, to diffuse the sting. Jake thought for a moment. "What about your mother then?" Bhim smiles, a smile Jake had never seen before. It was a gentle spreading of his lips, soft and smooth. His face suffused with light, like he was thinking of something wonderful. "My mother is the reason that I love you," Bhim said simply. "She is the reason that I know what love is."
My heart, ya'll. I loved this tender, beautiful book so very much. America for Beginners is a story of family, friendship and of feeling lost in the world and just wanting to find your way. It's about understanding and empathy, about being true to who you are no matter what the cost and it is also about seeking out answers, even if they do not give you the outcome you are hoping for. The book opens with Pival, an older, wealthy, Indian woman who has recently been widowed and is now trying to figure out how she wants to move forward with the rest of her life. Her heart aches for her only son Rahi, who she has not seen in years since her husband banished him from their home when he came out. Pival's husband claimed that Rahi had died, but she knows that he actually moved to the USA. Determined to make amends with the son she has never stopped loving, Pival pushes out of her comfort zone and signs up for a guided tour across America in the hopes of being reunited with her son.
I adored the characters in this story and I cheered for Pival the entire time -- holding out hope for her that Rahi was indeed still alive and that she could once again look upon the face of her beloved boy. I really enjoyed reading how the author challenged each character as to the stereotypes that they held about others and their perceptions of the world around them. Watching the growth of Pival and her traveling companions over the course of their two week tour was completely engrossing, and huge kudos to Leah Franqui for expertly weaving some incredibly tough topics in to the narrative (cultural appropriation, religious views on homosexuality, racism) while still maintaining a theme of hope throughout. I am blown away that this a debut novel and if this one is not on your TBR already, you need to remedy that ASAP. Huge thanks to William Morrow books for introducing me to this incredibly touching work. 4 stars.