Review by: Brynne Diggins
How do you get a bully to leave you alone?
Be so good at something that no one can criticize you – that’s what Rahul Kapoor thinks, at least. In The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy, 12-year-old Rahul wants to find something he can be the best at in order to get Brett (who always makes fun of him!) to leave him alone. Rahul relies on his best friend Chelsea and his family for help with trying new things to figure out what he might be the best at. As one of the few Indian American students at school, and with the annual International Bazar approaching, Rahul tries to figure out how he can “fit in” in a world that seems determined to make him stand out.
Published in 2019, The Best At It is a contemporary realistic fiction novel that represents multicultural difference as something that should be celebrated, but shares through Rahul’s story that coming to celebrate difference is a personal journey. Rahul is aware of the differences between himself and the popular kids at his school. He’s nerdy, they’re not. He’s Indian American, they’re not. He’s thinking about Justin a lot, and popular boys don’t have crushes on other boys. Rahul wants to prove that he is just another “normal” kid, so he downplays parts of his identity that his loved ones want to celebrate. Through The Best At It, Pancholy suggests that ignoring who you are doesn’t work; everyone has their own stories to share, and being “the best” version of yourself means embracing your story. The Best At It shows readers that embracing your multicultural identity has positive consequences for yourself and your community. Rahul’s journey teaches us that accepting and celebrating who you are allows you to see your strengths, combat anxiety, and let people love you authentically. Furthermore, readers learn that when you embrace and share your own identity, that makes your community a more affirming, celebratory place for everyone – something that Rahul’s Aunties tried to show him all along. Embracing multiculturalism is shown to have positive, invigorating impacts on the characters, who use the lessons they learn to be more authentic to themselves and honest about how they can best care for themselves and one another.
Brynne Diggins is a teacher candidate in the University of Minnesota’s M.Ed. and licensure program in English education. When not reading novels, she likes to page through cookbooks for her next culinary adventure.