The young adult author is shining a light on what it’s like to grow up in the Guyanese diaspora.Lakshmi Gandhi
The first scene of “In the Key of Nira Ghani” details a moment to which many readers who grew up in the South Asian diaspora can relate. Nira, the teen protagonist of Natasha Deen’s young adult novel is trying to finish her science project during lab. But mean girl McKenzie has other ideas. She starts pestering Nira about whether she was offended by the class working with a cow eyeball.
“We killed a cow. Are you mad at us or something? Aren’t they sacred to your people or whatever?”
Nira calmly explains that she is not, in fact, Hindu, and wonders if she should explain that she isn’t Indian. Her parents are from Guyana and Nira struggles to balance her desire to be a typical Canadian teen with her seemingly old-fashioned cultural restrictions — all while also navigating her first crush and the ups and downs of high school.
“In the Key of Nira Ghani” comes out today, April 9. Deen talks about writing for teenagers and West Indian identity.
What draws you to writing for young adults?
I feel like there’s more place for different kinds of questions and different ways of being in YA [young adult] and KidLit. Kid readers just really want a good story. So if you write a story about time travel, they just want a good story about time travel. And kids are a more demanding audience. Adult readers will give it a good shot and read 100 pages before thinking a book is not for them, but kid readers are like, if you don’t get me in the first five pages, I’m done. So you can push the boundaries a little
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