Note: We coincidentally received two reviews for the same book, Save Me a Seat, by Gita Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks, so we've decided to publish them both to get two different perspectives.
Review by Nandini Krishnan:
We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations. For Ravi and Joe, it’s the first week of fifth grade as the book Save Me a Seat follows the trials and tribulations they face. Ravi is moving all the way from Bangalore, India to Hamilton, New Jersey. Joe has lived there all his life, but his best friends have moved away. They seem to have nothing in common at all, but soon enough they find common ground- Dillon Samreen, the most popular boy in school. Each chapter in the story alternates from Ravi’s and Joe’s perspective. The story starts on the first day of school: Ravi’s family are eager for his first day of school, but he soon realises all the differences between India and New Jersey. Besides from having an unpronounceable name, nobody can decode what he is saying because of his accent. In the cafeteria, his vegetarian packed lunches are peculiar. But Ravi is undaunted, because he knows that he and Dillon Samreen, the other Indian boy in class, will become best friends. Soon enough, Ravi realises that this may not be the case...
Joe is alone without his best friends and the outlook for the coming year don’t look too good. To make things worse, his mom is becoming the cafeteria monitor. But to top it all of, Dillon is in his class, and is a bigger jerk than ever. Joe’s Auditory Processing Disorder, makes it even harder for him to make friends. How could Joe’s year possibly get better? You’ll have to read and see!
This book focuses on a very important topic, on accepting differences and celebrating them instead of using them as a tool to put people down. It also beautifully displays the power of food in bringing people together! I was really able to relate to this book, because Ravi’s character comes from the same part of India as I do, and it felt really nice to read about my culture! I can also relate to him when he talks about the switch from India to the USA, because it is quite similar to how I felt when I moved from a largely monocultural school to an international one, where I had to understand how things changed and how different interactions were, but had to learn to stay true to myself and who I was and not have to change myself to fit in.
I think that this a great feel good read that is suitable for anyone 9+ (although, my mom loved it too). The book brings light to some very complex issues, but makes them understandable for younger readers. My favourite part of the book, was finally seeing Joe and Ravi’s storylines merge at the end of the week. I liked how no matter how different Joe and Ravi were, they still became friends. If you are looking for an easy read, that will still make you think when you reach the end then you should definitely read this book!
Review by Sarina Patel Banker:
Ravi, a fifth grader at Albert Einstein elementary school, has a hard time fitting in. This is his first year at a new school, and he is not used to America. Ravi moved from India where he was “popular” and bullied kids who were different. Now, in America, he is the one who is bullied for being different. When he is hiding in the bathroom from the bully he says, “It seems I am getting a taste of my own medicine.”
At the end of the book, he shares with the class his grandfather’s story of working in tea plantations and struggling, because many dangerous animals lurked nearby. I can relate to this because my Grandfather worked hard in fields in India every day to cut sugarcane. He had a dream to go to school in America. When he finally was able to come to America, he had a difficult time fitting in and was teased for his accent. Now, my Grandfather is a successful doctor in Texas.
Joe, the other main character of this book is bullied by Dillon, the same boy that bullies Ravi. Joe has a hearing problem called APD, which makes your ears very sensitive to loud noises. Joe’s mom works at the school as a lunch monitor, and Dillon teases Joe about her. Over the summer, Joe’s only two friends moved away to California, and now he feels alone. Joe’s favorite time at school used to be lunch, but after his friends move away he sits by himself feeling lonely.
Joe and Ravi are different people from different backgrounds, but they shared some hardships. They both feel like outcasts and are both bullied by Dillon. Though at first they are not friends, they start to support each other. By the end of the book, Joe and Ravi become good friends. Ravi says, “Winning is not always about shining brightest. Sometimes it is about sharing the light with someone who has been waiting in the shadows all along.”
To me, this book is about friendship. The title Save Me A Seat captures the idea that no matter how lonely and sad you might feel, there could be someone nearby feeling the same way, who could become a good friend. It also shows how good friends look out for each other, whether it’s adjusting to a new country, dealing with a bully, or just having someone to share lunch with in the cafeteria. I highly recommend this book, and I hope you enjoy it.
Save Me a Seat by Gita Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks. Scholastic Press, 2016. Buy the book here and support Children's Art Foundation-Stone Soup in the process!
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