Today it’s my stop on the blog tour for That Asian Kid, and I’m excited to be sharing my review.
Despite his hard work and brains, Jeevan, is doing badly in his GCSE English literature class. His teacher, Mrs Greaves, dislikes him intensely and Jeevan is convinced that he is the victim of racial prejudice. Can he stand up for what’s right?
When he comes upon her in the woods outside school in a compromising situation with another teacher, Jeevan can’t help but film the scene on his phone. With this secret new ammunition at his fingertips – dare he upload it to social media?
Thanks to the publisher and author for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my views on the novel.
I found Savita Kalhan’s debut novel, The Girl into the Broken Mirror, a profoundly powerful read, so I was excited when I found out she had a sequel releasing this year. I knew it would be another intense, impactful, and heartfelt book.
That Asian Kid is all of those things and more. A bold new contemporary YA novel, it deals with issues of racism and microaggessions without pulling any punches.
The story follows high school student Jeevan as he fights for justice after his teacher racially discriminates against him. But when Jeevan records his teacher in the woods engaging in ~activities~ with another teacher, he has to decide what to do with this ticking time bomb.
Jeevan’s personality really drives the story and I liked his caring relationship with his Maji. But he’s also the poster boy for making morally grey decisions. There were times when I wanted to shake the book and ask ‘what were you thinking?’
But in Jeevan, the author captures a lot of what it means to be a teenager. We make poor decisions and regret them, but we learn from them and grow as people. We test our friendships and are in turn tested ourselves. Jeevan’s moral compass is tested on multiple occasions when he’s tempted to post the video, but he has a strong group of level-headed friends who give him advice and help him rationalise the situation.
Dread is one of my favourite characters because he’s effortlessly cool, values intelligence, and manages to talk Jeevan out of bad ideas.
Jeevan mentions that Dread often beats his Dad at chess and it’s easy to see why; he’s always thinking four steps ahead, and it’s his proactive nature that stops Jeevan from getting himself into more trouble. (Although Jeevan being Jeevan still manages to get himself into plenty.)
Sandi, on the other hand, is more light-hearted and at several points almost talks Jeevan into his bad ideas. He’s well meaning and has a big heart, but occasionally let’s his desire for justice run away with him. Dread is a Ravenclaw and Sandi is a Hufflepuff, imo.
Greaves is definitely the villain of the story. Despite being a teacher with a duty of care, she let’s racial biases and prejudices cloud her judgement, and treats Jeevan awfully. Her racism comes from a lack of empathy with marginalised communities and she makes no effort challenge her own internal biases.
When Jeevan tries to challenge them, she discredits him in front of the head teacher and singles him out further by grading his work poorly and accusing him of threatening her in class. I spent the whole novel wanting the school’s justice system to stop Greaves so that she’d get her comeuppance without Jeevan having to post the video.
The diverse cast of characters in this novel is one of the highlights. Most of the main characters aer POC and the way Jeevan describes his own cultural heritage enriches the tone of the book. Of course, I can’t speak for the authenticity of it, but I really enjoyed the descriptions of food, family dynamics, and history that were specific to Jeevan’s family, as British Asians.
Plot and pacing
The narrative style of the book really drew me in. Despite the plot’s simple premise, lots of small events happened one after the other that kept me gripped. There were several twists I didn’t see coming and I enjoyed how the plot was used to explore questions of identity and justice.
The main question of whether Jeevan will or won’t post the video online drives the story to its climax, which involves a tense string of events with Jeevan’s academic future hanging in the balance.
In her debut novel, Savita Kalhan explored important, difficult issues and her sophomore novel is no different. That Asian Kid discusses racism through the lens of a power imbalance.
As a white woman, Greaves has privilege that Jeevan doesn’t, and as a teacher she has power that he doesn’t. But instead of using her position to support and uplift the marginalised children in her classes, she abuses her power, subjecting them to abysmal discrimination.
Even knowing this story is fictitious, Greaves’s actions made me angry. And I think Kalhan wants us to feel this anger, and understand the injustice that Jeevan faces. She wants us to take this anger into our real lives and use it to fight for equality, to stand against microaggressions and underhand racist behaviour that can sometimes go unchallenged.
The book also explores sexism through Jeevan’s desire to incriminate a female teacher for her actions in the video, but save a male teacher from the same treatment. This bias is challenged by Ree, a friend of Jeevan’s, who questions (generally) why women should be degraded for enjoying sexual activities and men shouldn’t. She rightly points out that women are often humiliated or belittled for their sexuality, whereas men are applauded for it.
That Asian Kid is a shout of defiance against racism and prejudice. It balances light-hearted moments with serious scenes and explores what it means to be a British Asian teen in the UK’s current social climate. The pacy narrative and engaging characters will make you want to read this from cover to cover in one sitting, and the discussions of racial inequality will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.
Make sure to check out the rest of the blog tour!
Savita Kalhan was born in India, but has lived in the UK most of her life. She graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. She was a Batik artist before going to live in the Middle East for several years where she taught English and began to write.
Now living in North London, she spends her time writing, playing tennis, and growing vegetables and super-hot chillies on her allotment. Savita runs a very enthusiastic teen reading group at her local library in Finchley, who enjoy reading and talking about books as much as she does.
Her debut teen novel, The Long Weekend, was published by Andersen Press, and is a tense thriller about two boys who are abducted after school. It was short-listed for the Fabulous Book Award 2010. Her YA novel The Girl in the Broken Mirror was published by Troika Books in 2018, and her next YA novel, That Asian Kid, was published on 29th August 2019.
If you would like to know more about Savita, you’ll find her on Twitter @savitakalhan, or visit her website – www.savitakalhan.com
Have you read any of Savita Kalhan’s books? Do you enjoy YA books set in high school?