Satyal's lovely coming-of-age debut charts an Indian-American boy's transformation from mere mortal to Krishnaji, the blue-skinned Hindu deity. Twelve-year-old Kiran Sharma's a bit of an outcast: he likes ballet and playing with his mother's makeup. He also reveres his Indian heritage and convinces himself that the reason he's having trouble fitting in is because he's actually the 10th reincarnation of Krishnaji. He plans to come out to the world at the 1992 Martin Van Buren Elementary School talent show, and much of the book revels in his comical preparations as he creates his costume, plays the flute and practices his dance moves to a Whitney Houston song. But as the performance approaches, something strange happens: Kiran's skin begins to turn blue. Satyal writes with a graceful ease, finding new humor in common awkward pre-teen moments and giving readers a delightful and lively young protagonist. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Blue Boyby Rakesh Satyal
Meet Kiran Sharma: lover of music, dance, and all things sensual; son of immigrants, social outcast, spiritual seeker. A boy who doesn't quite understand his lot—until he/i>/i>
“Compassionate, moving, funny, and wise, Blue Boy is one of the best debut novels I have read in years.” —David Ebershoff, author of The Danish Girl
Meet Kiran Sharma: lover of music, dance, and all things sensual; son of immigrants, social outcast, spiritual seeker. A boy who doesn't quite understand his lot—until he realizes he's a god. . .
As an only son, Kiran has obligations—to excel in his studies, to honor the deities, to find a nice Indian girl, and, above all, to make his mother and father proud—standard stuff for a boy of his background. If only Kiran had anything in common with the other Indian kids besides the color of his skin. They reject him at every turn, and his cretinous public schoolmates are no better. Cincinnati in the early 1990s isn’t exactly a hotbed of cultural diversity, and Kiran’s not-so-well-kept secrets don’t endear him to any group. Playing with dolls, choosing ballet over basketball, taking the annual talent show way too seriously. . .the very things that make Kiran who he is also make him the star of his own personal freak show. . .
Surrounded by examples of upstanding Indian Americans—in his own home, in his temple, at the weekly parties given by his parents’ friends—Kiran nevertheless finds it impossible to get the knack of “normalcy.” And then one fateful day, a revelation: perhaps his desires aren’t too earthly, but too divine. Perhaps the solution to the mystery of his existence has been before him since birth. For Kiran Sharma, a long, strange trip is about to begin—a journey so sublime, so ridiculous, so painfully beautiful, that it can only lead to the truth. . .
“The best fiction reminds us that humanity is much, much larger than our personal world, our own little reality. Blue Boy shows us a world too funny and sad and sweet to be based on anything but the truth.” —Chuck Palahniuk New York Times bestselling author
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By Rakesh Satyal
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 Rakesh Satyal
All rights reserved.
Let me tell you something about elementary school: it's full of sly madness. I know most people picture little kids running around and wreaking havoc, splashing primary-colored paints all over the walls, liberating slimy class pets like frogs and lizards and more or less making the river Styx look like Lake Placid. But it's actually a madhouse in a very different way. It's not just a madhouse but an asylum. In asylums, the harshest, most deranged madnesses are those that are less verbal and more emotional, those that happen internally instead of screamed at the top of lungs or unleashed by overturning desks. Pushing and shoving are nothing compared to sly note passing and stares through slitted eyes. And I'm in the midst of both right now.
A week ago, two Big Events happened. One of the Events was the announcement of the 1992 Martin Van Buren Elementary School Fall Talent Show.
"So, class," said Mrs. Nevins, a pencil of a woman — long, thin body with a perm-topped, eraser-pink face at the tip. "It's not too early to start thinking about the fall talent show."
Cue the Hallelujah Chorus.
"I know many of you participated last year, and I encourage all of you to participate again this year. You have a couple of months to decide on your acts and rehearse them. Then you will have to fill out this form" — she was handing slips of light blue paper to each of us — "and describe what your act will be. It can be anything you want — you can dance or sing or play the piano or do a funny skit. Or you could even lip-synch to a song."
She must have been joking because almost everyone lipsynchs to a song. It takes no talent to do this. I'll never forget the disgusting sight that was Kevin Bartlett dressed in a leather jacket and a Beethoven-like wig while he "strummed" a cardboard guitar and "sang" Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." Kevin didn't move from his spot. He didn't even really know any of the words besides the chorus, so, minus the music, he was just standing and staring. Everyone was basically listening to the radio for five minutes. But their cheers after he "finished" meant that they loved it. Then there was the "brilliance" that was Cindy Michaels hand-jiving to Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach." Obviously, Cindy's mother, Ms. Lansing, didn't ever stop to listen to the "I got knocked up but I'm going to keep the baby" lyrics, nor the fact that chances were Cindy, who smooched every boy in class, might someday live up to the words. There are countless examples of other lip-synching fiascos that I could mention, but suffice it to say that 99.9 percent of the school is virtually talentless, and there is only that one rare diamond in the rough that shines through the mold.
And I'm a 400-carat stone, baby.
Unfortunately, the announcement of this miraculous annual event coincided with the Other Big Event: Kiran Being Wronged by Two Cold-Hearted Snakes.
Sarah Turner and Melissa Jenkins — elementary school wenches of the worst degree. In the Polaroid of my mind, the three of us sit arranged on the playground swings: Sarah on the left swing, her golden-retriever hair crossed by a purple headband and buoyed at the temples by two elfin ears. Me on the center swing, large brown eyes and mop-top black hair, red sweatsuit sheathing my body, legs crossed as if I'm a hostess. Melissa on the right, a near-clone of Punky Brewster — her hair in brown, almost black, tresses styled on her head (and which used to be in pigtails and fastened with a smiling yellow-sun barrette before she hit sixth grade and thought it too juvenile); freckles sprinkled over her nose; ragtag outfit made of a purple jean jacket and a rainbow of odd accessories — red and green tie-dyed T-shirt, blue Capri pants, orange socks. Amidst the scenery of gray gravel beneath our feet, the swings beneath our bottoms, and the twisted metal shapes of the monkey bars, slides and merry-go-round behind us, we are a brilliant splash of color, and I seem to be the nexus, my dark face and hair forming the stem of my cherry tomato clothing.
But the reality is different.
A week ago, the first day of sixth grade, Sarah and Melissa come up to me just before recess.
"Key-ran," Sarah says, shaking her mane to get it out of her face. "Wanna go swinging today?"
I can't believe my luck; last school year, I used to wander out to the swings all by my lonesome, bucking the Mariah Carey craze and humming Whitney Houston's classic "How Will I Know?" in my puberty-endangered soprano.
"Me?" I say, raising a hand to my chest and widening my eyes as if the girls have just pronounced me Miss America.
"Of course, silly," Melissa says. She tugs at the lapels of her jean jacket and shakes her head from side to side to flaunt her brown 'do.
The two of them lead me out to the swings. As we pass by, our classmates' mouths round into shocked O's. We walk through the gravel, kicking up stones and lifting dust into the air. It is the end of August, still summer, and you can tell that all of the kids feel oddly out of place, stunned to know that the weather can persist even if the vacation cannot. All of us have spent a morning with our summery thirst for diversion pent up, and even though we are in sixth grade now — the highest grade in this school — we cling to recess as much as we ever have, so when Sarah, Melissa, and I reach the swings, we slide into the floppy black seats with a goal to swing until our legs are blue at the knee.
"Let's see who can swing highest," Melissa says, pushing off and demonstrating exemplary technique — a smooth extension of her two gams, pressed together, as she swings forward, then a swift separation as she falls back, bending her knees so that each leg forms a V parallel to the ground. Her lips are pursed in heavy concentration at first, but as she falls into her rhythm, her face becomes supremely serene. I begin to copy, a bouquet of butterflies rising in me — a feeling I mistake at first for fear but later identify, all too sadly, as pride.
I give it everything I have. A breeze forms around me as I swing, the summer day now feeling brisk and cool. I can feel the air blowing through the fabric of my sweatpants, can hear the squeak of the swings' hinges and the breaths of exertion as Sarah and Melissa move higher, can smell faint wisps of their Petit Naté perfume. I push harder, almost coming out of my seat, and I notice that as I swing forward, the girls swing back. This gives me an overwhelming sense of victory, a bragging right of sorts. But I don't dare brag. I want to be humble to my two friends, effervescently graceful, like Whitney.
I swing higher, so out of breath it is like I am in the stratosphere. And then a sound stops my reverie. I look down to see the swings on either side of me dangling, their chains clinking. Just below and in front of me are Sarah and Melissa, their arms folded, mother-like. As I slide past the ground, I jam my feet into the gravel and look up at my new friends.
"We're finished swinging," says Sarah. One shake of her doggy hair. "Let's go on the monkey bars."
I gulp. Monkey barring has never been my best sport. And yes, since I am a bumbling fool when it comes to tennis (which Indians play) and football or basketball (which Americans play), monkey barring is the closest thing to a sport for me.
Sarah and Melissa walk arm in arm to the bars and hoist themselves up. They look down at me, two mermaids sunbathing on a rock.
"Come on, Key-ran," Melissa says. "Are ya scared?" I am scared, but I grab a bar in each hand and pull.
My body doesn't go any higher. In fact, it goes lower, as my legs swing under me and my sweatpant-covered knees dig into the gravel. I swing forward toughly, yank back, and fall onto my ass, each little jagged pebble like a mini-dagger against my cheeks.
I am lucky Sarah and Melissa don't abandon me on the spot. Others would have: A cluster of buzz-cut third grade boys wearing Transformers T-shirts and playing with the half-car, half-robot toys looks up and grunts. Four girls with big bangs and slap bracelets on their wrists stop their game of four-square, their inflated red rubber ball bouncing away in flimsy flops, then rolling to a stop on the blacktop. At least three games of tag, two between girls, one between a boy and a girl, halt. This is nothing that would be considered huge to a regular person, but when you're the cherry tomato foreign boy ass-down in the gravel, the toy-playing boys transform into the robot men in their hands, smashing and snarling metallically. The stares from the four-square players are so piercing that the girls might as well have chucked the rubber ball at your head, a soft but meaningful thud resounding. And the halted cat-and-mouse games of tag represent this truth: all quarrels, all grievances have stopped, because the attention has turned to you and your worthlessness.
But somehow, through some great stroke of luck, Sarah and Melissa don't look at you that way. They look at each other, trying not to show their laughter so as to avoid hurting your feelings, strengthening you with their compassion. Instead, they dismount, take a hand of yours, and hoist you up. They link their arms in yours and skip you off to The Clearing.
The Clearing is quite a sizeable chunk of land for a school playground. It's several acres big, with patches of seed-shedding dandelions and two rusty goalposts marking a makeshift soccer field in the middle. Along the perimeter of The Clearing runs a series of fitness exercises that the school installed a few years ago as proof that the administrators were capable of making the students healthier. However, once this promise earned more tax money, the fitness course did not receive a proper upkeep, so the wooden structures are pathetic now. There is a warped balance beam that looks like one of those soggy brown runt French fries in a McDonald's Happy Meal. There is a pair of pull-up bars, one short, one tall, that long ago fell over into the uncut grass around them. And there is a set of increasingly tall logs that one is supposed to ascend, the final rough-hewn cylinder the tallest but, of course, the last, so that the only options are to descend the way one came or to jump to one's fate — which many kids have done and, in so doing, have broken their stupid limbs.
It is to the French fry balancing beam that the girls lead me. As we head in that direction, they are more talkative than ever.
"So, Key-ran," Melissa says. "Who's better — Malibu Barbie or Evening Gown Barbie?"
"Evening Gown Barbie," I say. It just comes right out of me, but once I say it, I can't stop. "She is posh and elegant. But my preferred doll is actually Strawberry Shortcake."
Sarah giggles, but Melissa is silent, confused.
"You talk funny," Melissa says.
"It's because he studies extra language arts with Mrs. Goldberg after school," Sarah says. "He's a smarty-pants. You didn't know that, Melissa?"
"Oh, I just forgot. You don't usually talk that much, Key-ran. Otherwise I would know how smart you are." She smiles sweetly and winks at Sarah.
I "blush." That's in quotes because the only blush I can get is from the sun's reflection off my red sweatsuit.
"What else do you like about Evening Gown Barbie?" Sarah asks as we near the balance beam.
As unabashedly as before, I tick off my list of Evening Gown Barbie pros:
"Her dress shimmers; her eyeshadow has silver glitter in it, so it gleams extra-specially; her hair is straight, so you can style her golden locks in many different ways; and she comes with a hot pink comb, which you can use to do your own hair when you dress up in the mirror."
This last tidbit is the only thing that seems to impress Sarah and Melissa, who have let go of my arms and flank me — presenting me as a bride to the balance beam.
"Well, don't you like Ken?" Sarah asks, putting one hand on my shoulder, and now something feels a little stranger than usual, especially when I see a small bump form in my sweatpants, like a creature rousing itself to wake.
"Uh, I do like Ken ..." I say.
"I like Ken, too," Melissa says. There is a devilish glow in her eyes that would never have crossed Punky's.
"But," Sarah says, her face now so close to mine that I can smell her breath — a mixture of candy and warm, almost stinky saliva — "you know Ken is missing something."
Gulp. "Yeah ..."
"You're gonna show it to us, Key-ran," Melissa says, and I know for certain that Punky never acted like this because Henry Warnemont, her foster parent, would have disowned and re-orphaned her for this kind of slutty behavior. "John Griffin showed us his and we didn't even have to ask. But he bet us five dollars yours is different. He said yours looks like an elephant."
"It does not!" I say, knowing what they mean. I had my traumatic "naked father" moment years ago, at which point I realized there was a certain flesh-related discrepancy between my father's privates and mine. Apparently, the only thing I got as a first-generation Indian was fore thought.
I don't think Sarah and Melissa will accept the truth right now, though. Like tourists on a safari, when they want to see an elephant, they want to see an elephant.
As the girls press in, the bulge in my pants gets bigger, and it seems, in that moment, that what makes me plop myself down on the balance beam is that hipward rush of blood instead of trying to dodge Sarah and Melissa's sexual advances. Down I go on the beam, the girls clanking heads as if in a really bad Laurel and Hardy spoof. But soon a more dire collision has occurred.
In the few years since Mr. Hughes, the amply-stomached groundskeeper, stopped looking after the fitness course, it seems the balance beam has formed a porcupine-like covering of thick, sharp splinters. One such splinter punctures through my sweatpants and an inch into my right cheek.
I want you to remember how I described Sarah and Melissa. Please imagine it. Please imagine the saccharine smiles on their faces. Imagine the countless sleepovers they must have, the boys they discuss with open-jawed squeals, the dress-ups and the dolls and the compacts of makeup, the slam books and kisses against their arms. Imagine the conspiratorial wickedness, the cunning plotting, the yearbook searches, seeking out that perfect victim. Imagine them settling on the foreign kid, the one who wears bright, primary-colored sweatsuits, the one who sings to himself, moves his hips and dances when he thinks no one is looking, who draws intricate pictures of pretty girls, sometimes, even, of these conniving girls. Imagine the "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" scene from Grease, that bevy of tough chicks, smoking and boozing and stuffing their bras with quilted Kleenex, then think of what those girls were like in elementary school, what Rizzo did with her biting sarcasm and animalistic instincts before sexing them away in the back of secondhand convertibles.
Got that picture? Can you see those girls? Now imagine what those heartless hussies would do if they saw the foreign kid get a splinter up his ass.
Hear that banshee wail of laughter? Now imagine being the squashed cherry tomato on the beam, realizing you need to modify your moniker for your "best friends": they are not really best friends, but, rather, the best friends you can get. The best friends you can get are two girls who laugh at the grimace of pain you make; laugh at the way you wobble your way off the beam — the splinter coming with you; laugh as you hop, wincing, across The Clearing, which seems all the more enormous now; laugh at how you have to go up to Mrs. Moehlman, the teacher on duty, and tell her you have to go to the nurse's office for ...
"For what, honey?"
"For ... I got a ... I got a tummyache."
"A tummy ache? Honey, then why are you grabbing your behind?"
It really doesn't help that Mrs. Moehlman is wearing sunglasses from which two mini-Kirans look back at you, grimacing and looking mortally constipated.
Over the next few days, the beautiful girls I once deemed my saviors lead the anti-Kiran rally. They're like political muckrakers to the Kiran Sharma campaign, whispering to people about the extraordinary flamboyances of my schoolgoing career. They bring up the time I went to Principal Taylor and asked her if I could go home to see if the cabbage I had planted in the backyard had grown into a Cabbage Patch Kid yet. They unearth the fact that for three days in third grade, I showed up to class wearing a heavy fog of my mom's Elizabeth Arden Red Door perfume until Mrs. Walters had to pull me aside and tell me it was causing my next-desk neighbor Chris Johnson to break out in hives. Then they uncover the time I had a copy of Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, that hearty tribute to burgeoning female pubescence, in my desk. I even wanted to do a book report on it, but Mrs. Fisher told me it was too advanced a reading level for second grade, though I suspected this was not the real reason, a) because I was already attempting Sherlock Holmes stories by then, and b) because she asked to borrow the book and never gave it back.
Excerpted from Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal. Copyright © 2009 Rakesh Satyal. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Rakesh Satyal is the author of the novel Blue Boy, which won a 2010 Lambda Literary Award and the 2010 Prose/Poetry Award from the Association of Asian American Studies and which was a 2010 finalist for the Publishing Triangle's Edmund White Award. Satyal was the recipient of a 2010 Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His second novel, No One Can Pronounce My Name, was published in 2017. He lives in New York City.
Readers can visit his website at rakeshsatyalbooks.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Kiran is your average boy...who likes to play with Strawberry Shortcake dolls and wear his mother's make-up. BLUE BOY is told from Kiran's perspective. He's a pre-adolescent boy who doesn't have any friends and is looked upon as "weird" in school because of his predisposition to be more feminine than masculine. In addition to the normal school woes of a boy his age, he has to deal with living in Ohio, his family, his Indian culture, and their religion as challenges to being himself. The novel follows Kiran's random, every day thoughts over the course of a few months. As most of the novel takes place in Kiran's head, there is very little interaction between characters and little-to-no dialogue to balance out the long, descriptive narrative. There is very little showing of action, too much telling, and a lot of 80's references. Kiran's thoughts are also overly saturated with the most minute details. While the writing is definitely accurate for the thoughts of a young observant boy, it doesn't make for fascinating reading. As for the title, Kiran himself is the "blue boy," wanting to dress up as the blue Hindu god, Vishnu, for the school talent show. This show is what the entire novel leads up to. Big for a young boy, but very mundane for an adult reader. In other words, not much happens in this novel. And when something interesting does finally happen to our protagonist, it happens at the end of a chapter to keep the reader engaged (like a movie serial or chapter play cliffhanger). Unfortunately, the author doesn't then follow up very well in the next chapter with the "cliffhanger." The story (and Kiran's thoughts) just move on. I do commend the author, though, for Kiran's realization that he might be gay and what that means. His self-conclusion could be used a defense for gay equality, including same-sex marriage. All in all, I thought the writing in this debut novel was exceptional. I just wish the plot was a bit more interesting, and the descriptions a bit more concise.
Kiran Sharma—the complex, precocious, brazen, stubborn, adventurous, and decidedly “different” 12 year-old Indian-American protagonist—is convinced that he is the Hindu god Krishna come to life. As a culturally and sexually marginalized boy living in the Cincinnati suburbs during the 1990s, persuading himself that no one seems to understand him because he is, in fact, a deity becomes both a coping mechanism and a means of identity development for the charming and infuriating main character of Rakesh Satyal’s *Blue Boy*. Kiran’s command of language surpasses that of the typical 6th-grader. It probably surpasses the eloquence of many adults as well. His grammatical fastidiousness alienates him from his classmates (he even stays after school to study advanced language arts with one of his teachers). His penchant for spectacle and glamour—the school talent show is the highlight of his year—likewise distances him from his peers. And he fares no better with his fellow Indian-American acquaintances (whom he associates with mostly because their parents socialize on a weekly basis). Kiran is obsessed with his mother’s make-up—it is when she catches him that he decides he is an incarnation of the blue-skinned Krishna, and he begins to weave a grandiose narrative of his life as a nascent deity that justifies his thoughts and actions. The novel—Kiran’s narrative—delightfully illustrates both the joy and the sorrow of young adolescent isolation. Kiran is an only child, and even within marginalized communities (Indian Americans, the sexually precocious, the academically advanced) he often finds himself alone. And while he is well-equipped with the skills to amuse himself in his solitariness, he also yearns for friendship, companionship, and understanding. Peppered with pop culture allusions and resounding with the authentic dimensions of adolescent life as a “different” kind of kid, Satyal’s novel is a valuable contribution to multicultural literature as well as Young Adult literature.
This book had me laughing! Looking forward to more from Rakesh Satyal.
Rakesh Satyal reveals the story of a South Asian boy growing up in America. Sound typical? This is far from the typical cultural clash novel. This story unveils the truth behind a boy who has many secrets. Secrets way too big for the culture in which he is immersed, for the parents he is born to, and the community in which he resides. Parental denial, religious obligation and confusion, and the boy's own inner demons together create a world of struggle and turmoil. The subject matter makes this novel worth reading. The writing itself is mediocre at best, however this book could work for the right book club group.
Rakesh Satyal has a truly unique way of viewing the world that resonates precisely because it is a view of the world that so many of us inhabit. Quiet and unassuming elementary schools, city parks, teachers, and shopping malls take on flavors larger than life through the eyes of the narrator - an imaginative and hilarious young indian american destined for bigger and better things than those that exist within the small Ohio town in which he grows up.