Review: American Betiya ( Anuradha D. Rajurkar) | A story about cross-cultural and toxic relationships

There are lots of subjects I’d love to read more about, but toxic relationships are high on that list. We often get a look at the good relationships in which the good outweighs the bad, but it’s so important to take a look at the opposite, too. Because unfortunately a lot of us will have to live through relationships — whether it’s with a friend, family-member or partner — that are straight up unhealthy for us.

The thing that drew me into this book in the first place, though, is the cross-cultural relationship. There are not that many YA stories on that, I only now realised. I was really excited for this book and its representation, but do keep in mind that I’m not on own-voices reviewer, at least not when talking about an Indian main character. That’s why I will be linking to some reviews from people who can actually tell you what the Indian representation was like! I do have enough experience with toxic relationships (friendships, if we’re being specific) to talk a bit about that.

But enough of this intro: let’s look at what the book’s about!

What is American Betiya about?

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar
Publisher: Knopf
Release date: March 9th, 2021
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Representation: Indian-American main character, cross-cultural relationships, toxic relationships
Trigger/Content warnings: drug use/addiction, alcoholism, racism, fetishization, misogyny, gaslighting, manipulation, death of a loved one and mention of suicide

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Fans of Sandhya Menon, Erika Sanchez and Jandy Nelson will identify with this powerful story of a young artist grappling with first love, family boundaries, and the complications of a cross-cultural relationship.

Rani Kelkar has never lied to her parents, until she meets Oliver. The same qualities that draw her in–his tattoos, his charisma, his passion for art–make him her mother’s worst nightmare.

They begin dating in secret, but when Oliver’s troubled home life unravels, he starts to ask more of Rani than she knows how to give, desperately trying to fit into her world, no matter how high the cost. When a twist of fate leads Rani from Evanston, Illinois to Pune, India for a summer, she has a reckoning with herself–and what’s really brewing beneath the surface of her first love.

Winner of the SCBWI Emerging Voices award, Anuradha Rajurkar takes an honest look at the ways cultures can clash in an interracial relationship. Braiding together themes of sexuality, artistic expression, and appropriation, she gives voice to a girl claiming ownership of her identity, one shattered stereotype at a time.

What did I think of American Betiya?

I’m not gonna lie: this book let me down. I definitely had high expectations and thought it would have such a big impact on me, but unfortunately it didn’t. The premise of this book sounds amazing and it’s pitched as “for fans of Jandy Nelson”, who writes emotional stories, so I was hoping this would leave me crying, too. Sadly, my cheeks aren’t accompanied by tears today.

The thing is, though, this book has such a strong and important message. It’s one I believe we should see more often in books because, let’s be honest, the bookcommunity has a way of shipping characters that are toxic together. This is perhaps the thing I appreciated the most about this book, and I must say the ending did a pretty good job at teaching us how important it is, but I can’t just ignore the things I didn’t like about this book.

“I want to feel empowered by love, not trapped by it.”

Anuradha D. Rajurkar, American Betiya (quoted from an advanced copy)

The pacing of this book is all over the place. It went too fast and too slow altogether (although I was mostly frustrated by the fast parts). There is no time whatsoever to really connect with the characters and learn to care from them, something that’s really important to me while reading a book. Especially when I’m hoping for an emotional story.

The way things moved too fast is also one of the reasons I thought this book lacked depth. There were certain sentences where I felt for the characters for a split second, but that always faded away really quickly. I really needed to feel more, and I think that’s this book’s biggest “problem”.

American Betiya is also centered around around a romantic relationship, but it’s not a romance story at all. It’s a story of finding yourself and your dignity, of letting go and understanding what love is. I love that, of course, but the thing is that for me, it began to become too concentrated on Rani and Oliver falling in love, while, to be honest, I just wanted to see Rani grow.

As for the toxic relationship, most of the moments I really thought: yes, this captures it really well! So that representation is definitely good in my opinion, but (yes, here I go again) I really missed depth. I didn’t feel connected to Rani at all because she wasn’t developed well enough. Of course I felt bad for what happened to her, but it wasn’t the all-consuming emotion I wanted to feel.

Oliver’s character was pretty good in some ways. He had a certain charisma hanging around him which made Rani falling for him a bit more realistic (still way too fast, but okay). The way the author sprinkled in the red flags was also really well done. I despised him but he still had a certain vibe, if you know what I mean.

“Love…doesn’t belittle,” I say carefully. “It’s not supposed to make you feel broken, empty, addicted, and self-conscious. To question your sense of self. We can’t…romanticize the kind of love that essentially just hurts, Oliver. The kind that’s gaslighting or objectifying, despite your best intentions.”

Anuradha D. Rajurkar, American Betiya (quoted from an advanced copy)

As you noticed I haven’t said anything about the Indian representation. All I can say is that I thought it was interesting to read about, but if you’re looking for some reviews by Indian bloggers, here are a few: check out Kajree’s review, Gargee’s review and Shivani’s review!

Overall I think this had a lot more potential. The message was good, but there needed to be more to it. If it wasn’t for the pacing and the lack of emotions I felt, I think this would’ve been more than great. But sadly that wasn’t the case for me, so I will have to settle on giving this book a 2.5/5 stars.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinions in any way.

So that was that! I’m pretty (read: incredibly) sad I didn’t like this book, but it is what it is, I guess? Either way, remember to check out the own-voices reviewers I listed! I hope you enjoyed reading this post! You learned that I’d like to see more books about toxic relationships, but…

6 thoughts on “Review: American Betiya ( Anuradha D. Rajurkar) | A story about cross-cultural and toxic relationships

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