Published: September 12th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: School Library
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Contemporary
Synopsis: Nominated for the National Book Award | Walter Award 2018 Honor for Teen Literature | PW, NYPL, Horn Book, JLG, Boston Globe, Shelf Awareness, SLJ Best Book of the Year Lists | Six starred reviews: ★ Horn Book ★ School Library Journal ★ Publishers Weekly ★ Booklist ★ Shelf Awareness ★ VOYA
Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity–award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.
Spoiler Free Review:
Being Bengali and Muslim, it’s impossible to find books that accurately represent my experience. I’ve read books with Muslim protagonists before and I haven’t been able to connect with them, but this book was one the first story that I could truly see myself in.
You Bring the Distant Near is a generational story first told through two sisters, Sonia and Tara who have just moved to Flushing, Queens during the 1970s. I’m actually from Queens and if you know anything about Bengalis, you would know majority of Bengali immigrants end up in Queens, New York. The atmosphere and descriptions of Queens felt so familiar even in the 1970s. It’s a small detail but one that I really appreciated because of how easy it is to see that the author knows New York well enough to do it the atmosphere justice.
Tara and Sonia are vastly different from each other, Sonia being self righteous and bookish whereas Tara attempts to uphold her family traditions while still trying to pursue her dream of acting. Despite their differences, there’s still mutual love and support between the sisters all throughout the story. There is also Shanti, Sonia’s daughter who is conflicted about her identity being black and Bengali. Tara’s daughter, Anna also brings an interesting perspective as she was raised in Bangladesh and holds on to her tradition and culture. As someone who grew up in a place where most Bengali Americans (including myself) shunned their culture rather than embrace them, it was an interesting perspective to read from.
The most intriguing and dynamic character to me was Ranee, Tara and Sonia’s mother. Ranee arrived in Flushing wearing her deep set ignorance and tradition on her sleeve. She grew up learning how fair skin is superior to deeper skin tones adapting to Western beauty standards. As someone who grew up watching Fair & Lovely commercials on Bengali television channels, the colorism isn’t new to me at all. The anti-blackness and harmful stereotypes about black people is still something I see within my family today. It was interesting to see Ranee struggle with her own beliefs after seeing her own daughter being married off to a black man. By the end of the book, their was still that struggle to trying to find a balance between assimilating into “American culture” or sticking to your archaic traditions.
You Bring the Distant Near tells a beautiful story about women of color, culture, traditions and everything in between. As someone who’s never had a fictional to truly connect to, this story is particularly special to me. It’s also very underrated so if you’re looking for an insightful generational story similar to Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi, this is the perfect hidden gem.