Count Me In
This book has alternating chapters from two different viewpoints. Karina is an Indian-American student who loves books and photography, and her grandfather is coming to live with her family. Chris and his family are white, and even though they live next door to Karina, their families don't really talk much. Chris needs a math tutor so he can keep his grades up to stay on the seventh grade basketball team, and Karina's grandfather turns out to be a perfect match. Their lives are upended by a hate crime. What kind of America do we really live in?
This book's message about speaking up in the face of hate is an important one, and it's framed for an upper elementary audience. The story hits a realistic note depicting the initial disconnect between Chris's and Karina's families, even though they are next-door neighbors with no reason to dislike each other. However, other parts of the story are not as authentically character-driven, like when Karina's grandfather says " . . . the man in the market who made barfi, the sweet milk dessert that you love" (p. 107). Karina certainly knows the name of the dessert she likes; this explanation is signaling to readers and takes us out of the story.
The no-hate message is a little preachy in places, and racism is over-simplified, with the text explaining that there will always be people who will be hateful and that it's good to stand up to them. It is important to name and recognize racism, and the book functions as a discussion starter for upper elementary readers. However, the book does a better job naming the issue than it does developing three-dimensional characters.
" 'I have lived in this country for fifty years,' Mr. C. says, 'and I have never been treated like this.' "
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