Set on the island of Moloka'i, the story of a seventeen-year-old Gujarati girl overcoming the odds of being female in a male dominated world naturally racked up recognition - starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly, multiple Best Teen Book lists for 2016, and even a finalist for the 2017 William C. Morris Award. Sorry, William, but the average reader doesn’t give a crap about those things. Heck, the only reason it ever got into my hands was because it was continuously stocked and promoted at my local bookstore (shoutout to Skylight Books! And shameless plug for the importance of indie bookstores everywhere!!!). That hot pink cover with the badass, brown skinned girl in 90’s threads jumped out at me every time I walked in the door. But why did I need Rani? It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th time I took it off the shelves and cracked open the cover that I decided to find out.
Sonia Patel brings a fresh voice, killer rhymes, and a painfully toxic yet oh so relatable romance to this modern YA novel. Rani is so much more than the skinny Indian chick with a shaved head and sick beats as depicted on the cover. She’s a girl navigating a patriarchal culture who finds solace in the male dominated industry of hip hop. She can express herself but still can’t escape the malicious male gaze. Like most girls (and women - hi, me!), who get stuck choosing between one sexist society or industry or club or art form over another, the only way Rani can get out of that cycle is by going through it. She's more than a character you root for, she's a character you see yourself in - someone who's beautiful and strong but taken advantage of simply because she is female. Instead of trying to fit into a world that was made for her to fail, Rani finds her power through that very womanhood to stand out.
If the goal of any YA novel is to make a young person feel a little less alone, Sonia Patel’s work absolutely achieves that. With her psychology background, the world she builds is genuine and real without feeling procedural. Rani’s story is unapologetic in the way it portrays the ease in which a young girl can take a wrong turn and fall into a painful, confusing romance. She gets hurt, she is made to feel ashamed, and her confidence is tested but ultimately she learns the most important lesson for every young girl - YOU. ARE. NOT. BROKEN.
TL;DR: Dope, dope, dope YA novel. Any person who has felt the toxic, addicting love of a parent, a lover, or an art form, and was hurt tremendously by it will get something invaluable out of this novel.