Anuradha D. Rajurkar’s American Betiya is an OwnVoices novel about Rani Kelkar, an Indian American teen who enjoys photography, volunteering to work with kids, and intends to pursue pre-med in her goals of becoming a pediatrician. Her world comes crashing down when she falls for Oliver Jensen, an artist with a troubled home life. When Rani becomes immersed in his dark past and even darker present, her world begins to fall apart at the seams as she struggles to maintain a grip on her own life and sense of reality.
If you decide to pick up this book, please be aware that it contains topics such as gaslighting, emotional manipulation, parental abandonment, drug abuse, suicide, racism, microaggresions, transphobia (intentional misgendering), and fetishization (of Indian women). Especially with some of the content such as suicide, their introduction into the text was a bit jarring, so please be careful.
Going into this book, with the synopsis provided and the comparison to Sandhya Menon, I did not expect it to be so heavy. While I was aware that it dealt with topics such as emotional manipulation and gaslighting, I was unaware of the other heavier topics that were paired with them, so it was unexpected to be faced with them so bluntly. Topics like fetishization are not commonly addressed and I was glad to see them included, but there were several times that I had to step away from the book and stop reading because I was so frustrated or disturbed by the content.
As an OwnVoices novel that addresses darker themes, the intent of the author in weaving together this story was important. However, the execution fell short for me. The pacing threw the conflict off track, and consequently, it was difficult to connect with the protagonist. Even before the red flags culminated in more obvious signs of fetishization, racism and gaslighting within the relationship, it was difficult to understand why Rani fell in love with Oliver. The focus of their introduction aimed at the trope of Oliver’s “bad boy” vibe, based most immediately on the fact that he is an artist with tattoos. Their relationship moved too quickly, and though the book is written from a first-person perspective, there was a barrier between Rani’s behavior and thoughts and the reader’s ability to follow the progression of events. Consequently, it was difficult to connect with Rani as a protagonist. All I could see were the red flags and could not perceive the protagonist’s perspective even though it was a first-person narrative.
As a book that tackles such heavy themes, it seemed like an overload. There were so many topics that fought to be included that they each didn’t receive the attention they deserved to be addressed in their fuller scope. Therefore, the conflicts were not fully developed and the pacing threw everything further off, which failed to achieve a more cohesive story with complex nuances to its characters and conflicts: both Rani’s internal conflict, and the larger external conflict as well. While I was disappointed by the book’s premise compared to its execution, other people may find it to be perfectly paced or connect with the protagonist in a way I struggled to. Either way, please be aware of the content warnings if you decide to read American Betiya.
American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar was released on March 9, 2021.