Beyond Bollywood: South Asian American Middle Grade Fiction

In honor of the new exhibit I’m longing to see at the Smithsonian Museum, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the NationI thought I would explore some South Asian American Middle Grade Fiction in today’s post. The last time I did such a round up was in 2011 on my blog (See South Asian Kidlit, and Desi Kidlit Part 2) so I thought it was high time to do another, this time focusing on fantastic middle grade reads!

For better or worse, the glitzy costumes, colorful dance numbers, and over the top romantic storylines of Bollywood movies have come to represent the South Asian subcontinent in the collective imagination of the U.S. Yet, our stories are clearly so much more than that: they are stories of struggle, activism, family, community, political change, cultural tenacity and so much more. Our stories are funny, tragic, brave, silly, and, most importantly, varied. As the writer Chimamanda Adichie has argued in her captivating TED talk, there is a danger in telling a “singular story” about any community.

So here’s an incomplete list of some great South Asian American Middle Grade Books we have read in my household in the last couple years. Please use the comments section to add your favorites!



Vanished by Sheela Chari: (APALA 2012 Children’s Literature Honor Book and Edgar Award Nominee for Best Juvenile Mystery). 11 year old Neela must solve the mystery when her Veena vanishes!






The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and its sequel, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami. 11 year old Dini loves Bollywood movies, but when she moves with her family from America to India, even she could not imagine meeting her favorite movie star Dolly! 



Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos. Officially, Marina calls this a YA, but since it’s about 8th graders, I thought I’d include it anyway! 3 immigrant daughters of maids and nannies in a New Jersey suburb deal with friendship, family, and the definition of ‘home.’


Subgenre Alert!: The Indian-Jewish Canon of Middle Grade Fiction! (There’s even this interesting New York Times article about two of them!)




The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera HiranandaniAfter her father loses his job, Sonia is yanked out of private school and thrown into a public school, where for the first time, her classmates question her mixed heritage. 

my basmati


My Basmati Bat Mitvah by Paula J. Freedman: In the Fall Leading to her Bat Mitvah, Tara has a lot of her mind, including wonders what it means to grow up with two cultures



Mira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari (published as Artichoke Hearts in the U.K.): 12 year old Mira helps her beloved Nana Josie grapple with her impending death, including saying goodbye to her favorite places, painting her casket and eventually moving into a hospice.

  1. This is a wonderful list and I am proud to have been placed on it. You can see Mira again in ‘ Jasmine Skies’ when she goes to India to explore her Indian heritage. It will be published in US by the same publisher soon. I will be reading some of these very soon. Absolutely loved ‘My Basmati Batmitzvah’ Wonderful and wish these books had been around when I was growing up. A wonderful list.

  2. Thanks for your comments Tricia and Stephanie! I know Sarwat Chadda’s YA series (Devil’s kiss) but not Ash Mistry – must read them, thanks!

  3. I love this list! I absolutely looooooved VANISHED and THE WHOLE STORY OF HALF A GIRL, and I’m adding all the ones I haven’t read yet to my TBR list.

    If it’s okay to add more South Asian British MG fiction, like MIRA, then I’d definitely add the ASH MISTRY books by Sarwat Chadda – fabulous fantasy adventures!

  4. I loved Sheela’s book, as well as “Grand Plan” and “Mira”. Thanks so much for the other suggestions.

  5. Thank you Cyn – I had heard about that book, looking forward to reading it!

  6. Thanks for this! I’m fond of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj, brand new from Albert Whitman. It (clearly) has a Bollywood backdrop but the focus is on a story of family and friendship. See:

  7. Oh, I didn’t know that title – thanks Michelle will check it out!

  8. Great list. And it includes a couple of new ones (to me) that I’ll check out.
    Thank you!

    How about BOYS WITHOUT NAMES by Kashmira Sheth?