Hello; my name is Jay and I shall be your guest blogger today! This is my second time writing a guest post for this blog (you can check out my first one here) and I would like to thank the lovely Wendy for having me back. Now this is the first book review I’ve ever written and I have to say I’m very excited to share my thoughts with you.
Coconut Unlimited, Nikesh Shukla’s debut novel, was recommended to me by Wendy herself and I have to say that I absolutely adored this book. I can be a bit slow when it comes to reading, especially if I’ve got work to do or music to listen to, but I finished this book incredibly quickly by my standards. It obviously helps that the book is quite short but needless to say I could not put this book down. The story revolves around Amit and his two best friends Nishant and Anand, three asian schoolboys attending an all-white private school and their fascination with rap music that ultimately leads them to form their own rap group. The story is funny and well written and the characters are likable and well rounded.
However what made this book so addicting to me was how I was immediately able to relate to the portrayal of growing up as a British-Asian, no lie it was almost like this book was semi-biographical for me. Amit and his friends occupy a unique position in society; in school they are brown and subsequently face racist abuse from their peers and even teachers but amongst other British-Asians they are seen as “coconuts” (an offensive term meaning brown on the outside but white on the inside) and find themselves ostracised from other British-Asian youngsters. This practically sums up my teenage experience; being one of three Asians in my year at school it was an everyday occurrence to hear racist comments, not usually in a malicious way but mainly due to ignorance, that in all honesty I kinda became numb to it out of necessity and only looking back now can I see it for what it was. It was often worse being around other British-Asians who mocked me for talking or acting “white” (how someone speaks like a colour I have no idea). Therefore I definitely empathised with Amit whilst reading this book and the confusion he has trying to establish his own identity which is distinct from the stereotype assigned to him by others. My favourite scenes in the book were those where Amit was made to go to Indian community events full of people he didn’t know “with their embarrassing medley of saris and curries and loads of bad metallic grey suits and moustaches” and “my worst nightmare, where lukewarm chicken curry was served to drunk middle-aged moustache-ridden indians and their grumpy children” . As someone who has been made to attend events like this in the past these descriptions had me crying with laughter and tell me that Shukla must have first hand experience of these myself.
The other way I was massively able to relate to this book was the boy’s fascination with Rap music, which I spend 90 percent of my time listening to, analysing, reading about or writing about. I loved reading about Amit’s excitement to buy new rap albums, the thrill of hearing new music and being caught rapping along to music by his mother. To the boy’s Hip Hop is a way for them to express themselves as individuals and the way in which this music uniquely depicts the struggles of those oppressed by society has immediate appeal to them. Now I’m going to have to restrain myself here from fully geeking out about rap music but if you wish to read more of me doing that then please check out my other blogs.
Coconut Unlimited accurately depicts the teenage experiences of British-Asian schoolboys in “white” suburban England. But the book is very much of it’s time, set in the 90’s the most interesting aspects of this book were how it contrasted to my experiences as a teenager in the 00’s. Whilst thankfully I did not experience racism from my teachers and the racism I experienced from my peers was not quite as directly malicious as that faced by the boys it was still present but different. Growing up as a teenager in a post 9/11 world the racism I faced normally revolved around bomb jokes and general Islamophobic statements (neither me nor my family are Muslim), compared to the curry-based jokes faced by the boys in the book. In my mind this book highlights how much growing up as a British-Asian has changed but how it can still be a struggle.
I would like to say a special thanks to Wendy for this recommendation and as well for having me as a guest blogger once again. I would also like to say thank you to any diverse book bloggers reading this review; as someone who grew up writing stories in class with white characters “because brown people aren’t in books” I greatly enjoyed reading a book where I could so personally relate to the characters. Reading this book as a teenager would have been incredible for me coming to terms with who I am, so I think that anyone who is taking time to help promote diverse portrayals in books is doing an amazing and essential service; keep up the good work!