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What We’re Reading: Rani Patel in Full Effect

2016 September 8

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Rani Patel in Full Effect 
by Sonia Patel (Cinco Puntos Press, October 2016)

TW: mention of sexual assault, child abuse

In the past few years, there’s been an increasing trend of YA books tackling difficult topics such as rape, abuse, and eating disorders. They’re important topics to discuss, especially because they’re topics which are often considered too “risque” or “taboo” to talk to teenagers about. Unfortunately, a lot of YA books (and adult books, for that matter) include sexual assault or abuse plotlines simply for the shock value, or to grab the attention of a big publishers by exploiting a hot button topic. As a result, many books fail to accurately portray the lasting trauma that survivors deal with.

Rani Patel in Full Effect is different. Rani Patel in Full Effect is fast-paced, heart-wrenching, relatable, and, most importantly, isn’t afraid to show exactly what it means to go through—and overcome—trauma.

The titular character, Rani, is a sixteen-year-old Gujarati Indian girl living in Moloka’i, Hawaii. The book opens with Rani stumbling upon her father kissing a woman who is not his wife. Distraught, Rani shaves her head, in the tradition of Gujarati women who cut off their hair after being widowed. Rani has always dealt with her feelings by writing rap lyrics, and at the urging of an older man named Mark, she joins an underground rap group named 4Eva Flowin’. But Mark doesn’t just want to be her emcee mentor; despite being over ten years older than Rani, Mark asks her out, and the two start a tumultuous relationship. Desperate to fill the void her father left, Rani doesn’t realize that Mark is manipulating her, pressuring her into drinking and other, more dangerous things. Rani doesn’t listen to her friends who urge her to stop seeing Mark (who, it’s revealed, is a drug addict with a habit of going after younger girls). And then, one night, Mark rapes Rani.

Rape scenes are difficult, and not just in terms of subject matter. Written too graphically, it can feel as if the author is being exploitative, engaging in “trauma tourism” while not acknowledging the aftermath. Sonia Patel handles this scene with empathy and tact. It’s uncomfortable to read, as it should be, but Patel also knows when to fade to black, acknowledging that reading about trauma does not have to create new traumas.

It’s not just the writing of the assault itself that is remarkably well done. After Rani is raped by Mark, she goes back to him. Again. And again. And again. She’s convinced that he loves her, that he deserves a second chance, and, worst of all, if Mark doesn’t love her, no one will. It’s difficult to read, almost torturous. There were points where I wanted to grab Rani by the shoulders and shake her, asking, “What are you doing?!” But Rani’s complete willingness to look past Mark’s assault of her is, sadly, all too realistic. Many people—particularly young people in their first relationships—who are abused are unable or unwilling to leave.

Sonia Patel’s accurate portrayal of a young girl’s response to abuse makes sense when you look at her background. Patel isn’t some author writing about a random issue she thinks will sell copies; she has her M.D. in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and she has her own practice in Hawai’i. If there’s one thing Patel knows how to write, it’s people. Patel’s characters—and their relationships—are some of the most complex I’ve ever seen. Even supporting characters, such as Rani’s mother, who is initially portrayed as weak and emotionally distant, get their own fully fleshed-out arcs. (Rani’s mother rebuilds her relationship with her daughter and learns to stand up for herself, a feat she had never thought herself worthy of. It’s a beautiful journey to watch and yes, of course, I cried.)

Another of Patel’s strengths is tone. It would be easy for Rani’s story to become overwhelmingly dark, to be so difficult to witness that it would turn away readers who needed it. But Patel gracefully balances even the most somber of moments with moments of friendship, humor, and hope.At the end of the novel, Rani even finds love—real, healthy love this timeand she also finds friendship and courage in the 4Eva Flowin’ group. Her raps are empowering feminist jams that make me wish she was a real-world emcee. Here’s a sample from the rap she does at the 4Eva Flowin’ showcase towards the end of the book:

Don’t call me Sultana
Blazin’ it down settin’ off the alarm-a
I’m a charma’ with plenty of armor
more like Cleopatra spittin’ your mantra
brain so big I attain my own rain
don’t need your ball and chain
cuz I’m gonna sustain my own reign
what I’m sayin’ got you obeyin’
crushin’ your cranium—mantis prayin’
you be crass, checkin’ on this ass
while I be smashing your rhyme window like glass

(You can watch Sonia Patel spitting some of the rhymes she wrote for Rani here because, in addition to being a psychiatrist, she’s also a rapper. Can you say “badass”???)

Rani Patel in Full Effect does all the right things that a book about sexual assault and emotional healing should do. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and maybe even write your own raps (which, if you’re like me, you quickly decide to never share with anyone). Rani Patel is the complicated heroine you will be thinking about months after you close the book.

What books have you read lately that dealt with difficult topics?

 

One Response
  1. September 12, 2016

    Thank you so much for your incredible review. I am grateful for your thoughtful reflection on the novel. You really get it!

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