You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins; Farrar Straus Giroux, 303 pages, ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
This lovely narrative of mothers and daughters, of the immigrant experience, of female empowerment and cultural and racial identity, of leaving home and starting over, spans generations and continents, from Calcutta to Ghana to London to Harlem. It's told in the alternating voices of Sonia and Tara Das, their daughters Chantal and Anna, and in a few chapters, from the perspective of matriarch, Ranee.
The arc of the Das family journey mirrors the author's own, and the novel opens with a telling moment between mother and daughter at a beginners swim race at the British Club in Accra, Ghana, in 1965. The Dases are its only dark-skinned members, a fact eight-year-old Sonia is keenly aware of, and she creates a spectacle when her sari-clad mother, misunderstanding the rules, pulls her out of the water before her race is finished. The narrative skips ahead seven years, with the family leaving London for the U.S., where Rajeev Das has found an engineering job and an apartment in a black neighborhood in Flushing, a neighborhood that alarms his wife, who forbids her daughters from going out alone.
The novel is rich with humor and heart as Ranee Das struggles with the traditional role of a Bengali woman, while her daughters struggle to fit in in their new country. At her first view of the Statue of the Liberty from the plane, Sonia conducts an imaginary conversation: "Welcome, Sonia Das!" "Thanks, Ms. Liberty. Is that a sari you're wearing? I hope not." Older daughter Tara, a gifted actress, decides she will fit in in her new high school by aping Marcia Brady of the Brady Bunch and her mother sews both daughters matching Marcia outfits to wear the first day, then deftly manipulates the principal into putting Sonia into gifted classes. When their father dies, the girls rebel against tradition that only a son may perform certain rituals, whether it means shaving their heads to recite the prayers at the funeral or traveling to India to scatter his ashes in the Ganges and returning to the family farm that was confiscated during partition. One sister falls in love with and marries a black classmate and becomes estranged from her mother; the other finds unexpected love through an arranged marriage. When the narrative moves on to the third generation, the culture wars resume, with one cousin raised in Mumbai, the other in the U.S. and their contrasting reactions' to their grandmother's decision to become an American citizen. The title of this engaging, fascinating book comes from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore: "Thou has made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou has given me seats in homes not my own. Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger."
That Is My Dream! by Langston Hughes and Daniel Miyares; Schwartz and Wade ($17.99).
This picture book variation on Langston Hughes' 17-line poem "Dream Variations" brings to vivid life, in delicate watercolors, one day in the life of an African-American boy living with the harsh realities of segregation and his bright hopes for a better day. Miyares' evocative illustrations show the boy, with his mother and sister, sitting in the back of the bus, the boy using the "colored only" drinking fountain, joyfully greeting his father at the end of the work day. There's a fierce joy, as the boy takes flight with the birds - "to fling my arms wide in the face of the sun" - and a heart-breaking beauty in Miyares' depiction of that better day. Miyares, who grew up in South Carolina, is the author and illustrator of acclaimed wordless picture book "Float" and writes that he hopes this book becomes "a catalyst for empathy, just as it was for me."