This is a brand new YA novel, hot off the press in September 2019 and highly recommendedfor its realism, the moral dilemmas explored and its humour. Kalhan skilfully interweaves serious issues like adult weakness, bias, exam pressure and online bullying, with the authentic representation of day to day teenage and family life across a close knitgroup of friends in Y11 at grammar school, voiced by Jeevan, ‘that Asian kid’ of the title.It’s a twisty, dramatic tale, but the suspense comes from the characters and the decisions they make. It’s remarkable how much narrative tension can be centred around whether or not to upload a video on YouTube!
Nevertheless, much of the book’s enjoyment overall comes from the observations of the more humdrum aspects of teenage life which are often very funny and astutely captured. Kalhan is particularly successful at capturing male friendship but her representation of intergenerational relationships and different incarnations of family/family life is equally deft.
The author confronts issues like racism head on but her approach is to present Jeevan and his friends/family as engaging, complex characters who don’t tell a ‘single story’ about their experiences and views in terms of their individual identities and family backgrounds. Jeevan himself is a very human, rounded character who makes plenty of mistakes but there is never a consensus amongst his peers as to what he should do next. As an adult teacher-reader I kept changing my own mind too. This certainly gives plenty to think about and discuss if the book is being shared in a group.
That Asian Kid is probably most suitable for KS3/KS4 readers but I can imagine many UKS2 readers enjoying it too. However there is one example of strong swearing (noted and not really approved of by Jeevan) and the themes might need some mediation with younger readers so it would be safest to read before recommending.
Kalhan’s other YA novels are also excellent. The Long Weekend is a thriller, also centred on boys friendship but with younger protagonists than That Asian Kid but do be aware that The Girl in The Broken Mirror deals, very sensitively, with rape and is definitely for older readers only.