Her Story: Ladies In Literature with Sona Charaipotra

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-three authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Sona Charaipotra

Sona Charaipotra is a journalist and author who’s written for everyone from The New York Times to Teen Vogue. The co-founder of Cake Literary, a boutique book packaging company with a decidedly diverse bent, she spends much of her time poking plot holes in shows like Pretty Little Liars – for work, of course! She’s the co-author of the dance drama Tiny Pretty Things and its sequel Shiny Broken Pieces. She’s proud to serve as the VP of content for We Need Diverse Books.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads

As a child, one of my first friends was named Anne. She was a redheaded orphan with a bright spirit and startling curiosity, and she said and did things I only wished I was brave enough to say and do. She’d also long been a wanderer, lonely and a misfit, looking for the place she could call home. As the very brown child of Indian immigrants in a very white town in central New Jersey, I knew that feeling well. To me, Anne and I were kindred, and I spend many days thumbing through the pages wrought by LM Montgomery, causing chaos with Anne, Diana, Gilbert and the others at Green Gables and in Avonlea.

It was not till I was much older that I realized that as much as I related to Anne – a wanderer, a writer, a misfit like me – even in Avonlea, I would have been the odd girl out.

See, for so long, I never saw a brown kid like me on the page. Not in Anne Of Green Gables, not at home with the March sisters in Little Women, not even amongst the ragtag crew of The Baby-Sitters Club. (Though Claudia was pretty cool!) And for the longest time, because of that, I didn’t even realize I was missing. Because when you don’t see yourself represented, it’s hard to imagine that you ever even could be, that you ever even would have the right to be. You’re so completely erased, you question your very right to exist.

It took a long time for me to realize that. And it hit me like a tumbling pile of books the day I discovered a girl like me – an Indian-American girl from ‘80s America who ate pizza with her samosas, wore sneakers with her salwar kameez, celebrated Diwali, then Christmas – on the page. 

I saw her in a book called Bombay Talkie by Ameena Meer, a story about one such young girl who stumbled through her teen years in New England, then traipsed along a heady, wild ride through her familial lands in India. She was not exactly like me by a long shot – bold where I was meek, Muslim to my (pseudo) Hindu, a wanderer like Anne, maybe, but with a wild streak I coveted. But there she was, someone who shared my skin and parts of my soul, right there on the page. I was shocked. I was elated. And I was infuriated. Because it was only then that I realized what I’d been missing all along.

I’d caught glimpses of my experience before – in the immigrant stories of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, in familiar but foreign familial sagas like The Joy Luck Club, in the cold and clear work of Jhumpa Lahiri. But it was never quite mine to claim. So seeing young Sabah trying to unravel herself through the tug-of-war of two intensely divergent cultures was a moment of revelation.

When I met the author of the book at a signing at my college a few years later, I told her as much – and, shyly, I told her about my own writerly ambitions, ones I didn’t let myself admit even to myself until I realized that I was allowed to use my voice, allowed to put myself and people like me on the page. She was so encouraging, that moment honestly gave me the strength I needed to chase my own writing dreams. (And I’m forever grateful, so I remind Ameena of that often).

In the many years that followed, it was still rare to see a kid like the one I was on the page. In fact, my own kid is seven, and it’s still hard for her – which is why I’m such a strong proponent of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and why my partner Dhonielle Clayton and I make the books we do through our company, CAKE Literary. Books like the recent The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi, in which a young hijabi girl with gumption and spirit, not so unlike Anne, gets to play the hero. Hopefully, things are starting to change.

But I’ll be honest, seeing myself reflected, it still has the ability to move me to tears. Case in point? Sandhya Menon’s recent romcom When Dimple Met Rishi. The day my mom saw the book, she asked me if I had posed for the cover – that’s how close that book hit to home. For me – and so many kids like the one I was – those moments are still very rare. I can’t wait till they become all too common.

Title Shiny Broken Pieces
Author Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Published July 12th, 2016 by HarperTeen
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

June, Bette, and Gigi are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice. June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. But being the best could mean sacrificing the love of her life. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. And Gigi is not going to let Bette — or the other dancers who bullied her — go unpunished. It all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?

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