What I Meant...

What I Meant...

4.6 15
by Marie Lamba

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After 15 years of being a good daughter and loyal friend, wouldn't you expect the people closest to you to believe you? To at least try to understand what you mean? Since my evil aunt moved in, everything has gone wrong.

My little sister thinks I'm a thief.

My best friend thinks I'm a jerk.

My parents think I'm bulimic.

And the boy I love thinks I'm not

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After 15 years of being a good daughter and loyal friend, wouldn't you expect the people closest to you to believe you? To at least try to understand what you mean? Since my evil aunt moved in, everything has gone wrong.

My little sister thinks I'm a thief.

My best friend thinks I'm a jerk.

My parents think I'm bulimic.

And the boy I love thinks I'm not into him at all.

Somehow I have to set the record straight before I totally lose my mind.

Marie Lamba's debut novel tells the story of how 15-year-old Sangeet Jumnal's sleepy suburban life suddenly gets super complicated.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Lamba makes an impressive debut with this contemporary novel introducing Sangeet, a 15-year-old Indian American girl who at times feels like the whole world is against her. The trouble begins when Chachi, Sangeet's widowed aunt from India, moves in with the family. When some items-food, money and some personal belongings-disappear from the house, it's obvious to Sangeet that Chachi is the thief, but Sangeet's parents blame their daughter. To make things worse, Sangeet's best friend, Gina, is inexplicably angry with her. Then there's the matter of Jason, Sangeet's crush, who acts like he's interested in her but stands her up after they plan to meet at the skating rink. The harder Sangeet works to prove her integrity and innocence, the less she is trusted. However frustrating her situation, misunderstandings do pave the way to some very funny moments. (At one point, Sangeet's parents are mistakenly convinced that she has an eating disorder, because snacks are missing from the cabinet, and Sangeet is forced to visit a therapist-who happens to be the father of one of her close friends.) Given the book's lighthearted tone, there will be little doubt that the wrongs Sangeet suffers will be righted, but dark undertones regarding the emotional instability of both Chachi and Gina could have been developed more fully. Ultimately, readers will find much to like in Lamba's heroine, who ultimately survives a set of trials worthy of Job with grace and humor. Ages 10-up. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Sangeet Jumnal's ordinary life in her happily biracial family in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, has been greatly complicated by the arrival of her aunt. Chachi is from Dad's side of the family, the Indian side, but she is different from Sang's other Indian relatives, who are "all sweet and nice and ask me questions about how I am and smile." Chachi's accent is harsh, her manner brusque, and if she seems like a caricature, that is quite plausibly how a harried Sang might view her in this story told in first person. Chachi turns the kitchen upside-down, seems completely obsessed with her own issues and needs, and reduces Sang's younger sister Doodles to tears. Meanwhile things are getting tense in school. Sang has a crush on Jason, and has heard from her best friend Gina that he might not be exactly indifferent. Dad, however, for reasons at odds with his own rebellious past, has turned traditional on his daughter and forbidden her to date. It all seems like a mix filled with the promise of tension and drama, and indeed the main character has progressively complex mazes to negotiate, involving truth, deceit, and the terrain between them. Her attempts at finding her way out of her unenviable situation are funny and touching and land her, naturally, deeper and deeper in trouble until Gina seems ready to cross her off her list of friends forever. It all comes to a head with an attempt at a secret date, clashing with a family visit to the Sikh gurudwara. Beleaguered Sang will evoke the sympathy and amusement of teenaged girls. While the clash of cultures thread feels overdone in places, in others, as when Jason steps off his pedestal with wisecracks about Sikhs, it is completely and insightfullyon target. In places the writing feels labored, and there seems to be a few too many subplots. Still, it is most refreshing to see a biracial family at center stage here. Touches like the parents' readiness to believe the very worst, Dad's easy turn to fearful despair, the ongoing battle between Sang and Chachi, and the American Diwali, ring true in endearing ways. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up Sangeet, 15, is the daughter of an Indian father and American mother. Her suburban Philadelphia life is getting complicated. An aunt is living at her house, stealing her stuff and turning her family against her; her best friend isn't talking to her; a lost schedule book leads to plummeting grades; her parents think she is bulimic; and she has boy troubles galore. The teen's family life and struggles will resonate with readers of all backgrounds, and fans of Narinder Dhami's "Bindi Babes" books (Delacorte) will enjoy this more mature, American take on similar issues. Lamba puts the present, first-person narrative to good use throughout most of the book, but glosses over some of the actions and reactions readers might expect from this intimate view into the girl's life. Sang's efforts to prevent the complete alienation of her best friend seem inadequate, the parental fallout from her escapades is mentioned only in passing, and a visiting uncle provides a deus ex machina of an ending. Still, teens will enjoy the interesting cast of characters and the book will have broad appeal, leaving readers wanting more.-Cara von Wrangel Kinsey, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
Since Sang's bossy aunt from India moved in with Sang's family, it seems like she can't do anything right; this is new for the 15-year-old girl, who's used to perfect grades and praise for exemplary behavior. Fed up with her tyrannical aunt, whom Sang is ironically required to call Chachi, an Indian term of endearment, she decides to fight back. However, it's immediately clear that Sang has underestimated Chachi and now, instead of ousting her aunt, Sang must defend her own reputation. It's been jeopardized by a string of misunderstandings strategically exacerbated by Chachi that stand to ruin her relationships with her best friend, her secret crush and her family. Although readers become intimate with Sang through her thoughts and the creative bedtime fairy tales she weaves for her little sister, the majority of Sang's friends and family members lack development. However, adding detail and depth to the text is the influence of Sang's father's Indian heritage, which naturally integrates not only elements like traditional Indian foods, but also cultural beliefs relating to family and dating. Realistic and well-paced. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 8.46(h) x 1.04(d)
680L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 16 Years

Read an Excerpt

“What exactly did they say?” “To call.” I give my aunt a faint smile.

“What did they say? You must think.”

That is what they said, you stupid old cow! I want to scream this, but of course I don’t. Okay. Let me backtrack a bit. I know this doesn’t sound good, but I’m a nice person. Really. And I’m totally loving to my family. And, true, my aunt is part of my family, but from the Indian side. She’s my dad’s sister-in-law. Normally I love my Indian relatives, though I don’t see them that often, but normally my Indian relatives are all sweet and nice and ask me questions about how I am and smile. Sadly, there is nothing normal about my aunt. Because she’s my dad’s brother’s wife, I’m supposed to call her “Chachi,” but that sounds all affectionate, like she’s someone who would hug me and make sticky sweet rosogullas for me and tell me to eat them all because I’m so skinny. Right. I guess that’s the idea we all had when we turned our lives upside down to let Chachi live with us. It’ll only be two years, my father had reasoned. Just long enough for my cousin to finish his undergraduate degree, and now, with my brother, Hari, at college, we have a bedroom free, so . . .

“You must tell me every word this person is saying,” my aunt says. She is scowling now. As if I am hiding the answer to her problems. As if the entire universe is out to get her. I smile at this.

“Eh?” she says in a sharp voice. Her black eyebrows are raised, and she looks like she’d be happy to smack my knuckles with the portable phone she is waving at my face. Really, it’d be so easy to snatch the phone from her bony hand and whack her on the head with it. Not a hard whack, you know. Just a friendly rap. Just a way of saying, You asked the question and I answered it. Listen and move on!

My little sister Doodles comes running into the kitchen: “It’s gone!” She looks panicked. Since Doodles is only eight and tends toward the dramatic, I figure she’s lost something goofy, like her bubble-gum-wrapper collection. But she says, “All my money. Gone!”

“Don’t interrupt,” Chachi says.

“Wait,” I say. “Doodles, are you sure?” She’s been saving money for Christmas presents since the end of the summer. When she last showed me, her purse held a surprising thirty-eight dollars.

“My purse was hanging on the back of my door. Now it’s gone.”

“And?” Chachi demands. “How does this concern me?”

I take a deep breath and remind myself of all the reasons my parents say I should be extra nice to Chachi. Because she is family, and family takes care of family no matter what. (This is my dad’s way of thinking.) Because she’s been all alone in America since her husband died and her only son has gone to college. Be a good person and just try to be patient. (This is my mom’s view.)

“It was a lot of money for Doodles,” I try to explain. “This means a lot to her.”

Chachi frowns at my sister. “It is gone now. You go too.”

Tears brim in Doodles’ eyes as she rushes from the room.

“Why did you have to be so—”

“Tell me,” she says. “What was said, exactly?”

Patience, Sang. Lots of patience. “The woman said, ‘Is Kajal there?’ I said no. She said, ‘Can you have her call Carol at Copy Stop?’ I said, ‘Sure, what is the number?’ And she said . . .” I look at the pink message slip I filled out, and I read the number back to her. “She said, ‘Thank you.’ I said, ‘Sure, goodbye.’ She said, ‘Goodbye.’ Click. Dial tone.”

My aunt bunches up her eyebrows. I’d like to say they’re bushy, but no. They’re delicate. She’s younger than my mom, and actually quite pretty, with her long black hair and heart-shaped face. Anyway, I used to think she was pretty before I got to know her better. So my aunt bunches up her eyebrows and says, in that harsh accent of hers, “No. Think again. I must know.”

I long to scream, LEAVE ME ALONE! THE TRUTH ISN’T SOME MULTIPLE-CHOICE TEST! IT IS WHAT IT IS! For one terrible moment, I think I might actually do it—yell in that tone I only have the nerve to use on my mom, who has to love me no matter what. I tighten my mouth, holding back the words. The tension between my aunt and me is palpable. Electric.


We both jump, for the phone in her hand has sprung to life. My aunt answers it, saying in the softest, kindest voice, “ ’Allo?”

Forgoing the snack I’d originally journeyed to the kitchen to find, I take my cue and sprint through the living room and up the steps leading to the bedrooms. My sister is sitting on her bed, her back to me, arms crossed.

“Doodles? You okay?”

She doesn’t turn around, or even move. I realize she’s trying hard not to cry.

“Don’t let her bug you,” I say in a low voice.

“Sangeet!” Chachi shouts. “Telephone!”

In my own room, I grab my phone and say, “Hey,” just as I close the door and pop the lock.

“It’s me,” Gina, my best friend, says.

I sink onto my bed and twirl a lock of my black hair round and round my finger. “What did you do now?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The phone?” Gina usually meets me online after school. A phone call means she’s grounded for something. No Internet. No radio. Somehow her parents never consider the phone as a privilege to be taken away. Probably because Gina never touches it—unless she’s grounded.

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