Tag Archives: #thisisonewaytodance

Books I Embraced, Devoured, and Loved In 2020

This year—destructive, unrelenting, heartbreaking —has affected everyone differently. From early in the crisis, I’ve repeatedly heard that many people have struggled with the inability to focus, which includes reading. To combat that during the Stay-At-Home and Phases orders, I sought books that would buoy me, make me laugh, and/or educate me. My hope is that by sharing these titles, you, too, will find something to embrace, devour, and love. Books are listed in author-alpha order, and I believe there’s something for everyone.

 Hungry Hearts

by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond, eds. 

Hungry Town Row is a place where 13 interconnected young adult short stories are set in and around mom ‘n pop eateries featuring cuisines from around the world. Recurring characters populate the stories as they experience family, love, and magic plus delicious food made with heart. Sangu Mandanna, Sandhya Menon, and S. K. Ali team up with ten other #ownvoices YA writers to produce mouthwatering stories.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors & Recipe for Persuasion

by Sonali Dev  

After having devoured Soniah Kamal’s brilliant novel Unmarriagable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan last year in one sitting, I craved other contemporary adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. Dev’s Austen-centric trilogy, “The Rajes,” tells the stories of thirty-something cousins. Trisha in PP&OF (#1) is an uncompromising neurosurgeon of renown in the Bay Area, and Ashna in RFP (#2) is a chef desperately trying to keep her self-confidence and late father’s restaurant afloat. Filled with love (and food) and angsty romance (and food), both are delightful, fun reads with plenty of depth and intriguing backstories. Incense and Sensibility (#3) is due to come out July 2021.

 The Atlas of Reds and Blues

by Devi S. Laskar  

Laskar’s stunning debut novel, based on an incident that occurred at her own home, never discusses racism. However, the incidents in the protagonist’s short life offer abundant fuel for discussions that society must undertake. This story of the unacceptable, unforgivable treatment persons of color—especially women—are forced to endure even now in the twenty-first century is powerful reading.

 A Burning

by Megha Majumdar

Told by three connected characters—a young woman determined to move her family out of the slums, an endearing hijra who dreams of becoming a Bollywood heroine, and a frustrated PT teacher—Majumdar’s remarkable debut novel begins with the firebombing of a crowded train. From there it handily confronts social media and mob mentality, manipulation of the truth, and destructive paths to supposed greatness.

 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

by Sandhya Menon  

Menon’s fun final entry to the award-winning “Dimpleverse” trilogy combines the entertaining “opposites attract” and “fake dating” tropes with hyperlocal environmental issues. As always, her characters earn their happy ending while experiencing the victories and failures required to shoulder responsibility as they mature into adulthood.  

A Feast of Serendib: Recipes from Sri Lanka

by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Getting back to food, there’s nothing more comforting than a cookbook that brings the love of sharing food onto its pages. Mohanraj’s is a volume of family history plus tips and hints about where to purchase hard-to-find ingredients, what to substitute in a pinch, and options for preparing the snacks, entrées, sides, beverages, and desserts. Kitchen-tested, family-approved recipes left me drooling and eager to start cooking something new.

 Choosing Hope: 1 Woman. 3 Cancers

by Munira Premji

In a span of three years, Premji was diagnosed with three late-stage cancers. Inspired by a bracelet given to her that reads, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible,” she embraced the concept. Choosing hope strengthened her resolve during countless chemo sessions, hospital stays, and the long wait to have stem cell transplantation. Premji’s an inspiration not only to other cancer patients and survivors but also to the rest of us – reminding us to stop, breathe, and embrace life.

 This Is One Way to Dance—Essays 

by Sejal Shah  

Shah’s compilation offers twenty-five of her essays chronicled by the year written (1999-2019) and is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. The result is Shah’s inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar

Umrigar’s second children’s book this year updates the story of her Parsi ancestors’ journey from Persia to India, where they sought a new home. Kindness, goodness, and diversity between citizens and immigrants alike is the theme that makes it so appropriate for today. Despite being tagged for ages 4-8, the book can be enjoyed by all ages. Gorgeous illustrations grace every page.

 Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World 

By Fareed Zakaria

Zakaria dives deep into social, economic, and political lessons we should have learned from previous epidemics/pandemics (but didn’t); how human impact (earth, sky, sea) furthers the chance of larger events; and how politics (worldwide) plays a role in prevention and mitigation. Zakaria’s bottom line is that there is much to do at all levels to understand and prepare, but yes, it can and should be done.


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents, a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association, and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She always wears a mask in public settings, avoids crowds, believes in social distancing, and washes her hands. 

Dancing in Plain Sight

“The world is full of paper. I am writing now. I am writing to me. I am writing to myself and others like me,” author Sejal Shah professes in an essay “The World is Full of Paper. Write to Me“, which is featured in her debut collection, This Is One Way to Dance. 

When asked to review this collection, I remembered Shah’s piece in an anthology I’d reviewed fifteen years ago, Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (IC, April 2005). In that particular piece, “Betsy, Tacy, Sejal, Tib”, Shah imagines a childhood in which girls read books about characters who looked like her, and life was perfectly normal, even outside the walls of her home in a predominantly-white neighborhood bordering Rochester, New York.

Like that piece, her collection is an exploration of the sharp corners of the hypervisibility and invisibility she bore—identity, race, acceptance, foreignness in her own country. “Dance” offers twenty-five of Shah’s writings and is chronicled by the year written (1999—2019). The result is an inspiring autobiographical search for identity in her birth country, a country that prides itself on its diversity yet persists in designating “Other” to strip away one’s non-white distinctiveness.

Sejal Shah
Sejal Shah, Author of This Is One Way to Dance.

The daughter of Gujarati immigrants from India and Kenya, Shah is the only person in her immediate family who was born in America and grew up in western New York. She was 19 when she first visited India. Still, travel is an important method of seeing herself as she moves from Rochester to Amherst, Brooklyn, Decorah, the Bay Area, and the desert of Nevada. We follow her as she moves to college, teaching positions, fellowships, residencies, and Burning Man. She travels to France – and reminisces about a dear friend lost to suicide – and to Sicily – and unexpectedly befriends an Indian family of vendors.

Shah guides the reader through skillfully written examinations of dancing and weddings (her brother’s, friends’, hers); her sense of place and belonging (contrasting the contentment of her parents’ circle of friends with living in numerous places where her comfort level varied); her challenges as an American of color (“Where do you come from?” people ask her, expecting an answer different from “Upstate New York”); frictional pop culture (The Simpsons’ Apu character voiced by a white man); microaggressions (encountered too regularly); and food (it means home no matter where she dines).

Shah is a poet, short story writer, and essayist. “Dance” is the canvas upon which she has successfully discarded rules, choosing instead to marry the three in a genre-mixing volume that shows her talents and voice at their best. As a poet, too, she brings a lyricism to her prose, an economy with hard juxtapositions, and an open, welcoming door into her thoughts and life. At times, it reads like a journal, a diary, those most intimate keepers of one’s emotions.

Her introspective, thought-provoking, often-humorous essays laced with frustration and joy, sadness and discovery give rise to seeing life through her eyes, then reflecting on one’s own. Her writing reveals an individual and offers no template for a large group of people. Instead, it is personal, honest, and hopeful.

Shah’s essays are springboards to conversation. They are reminders that under the broad umbrella of race, each person sheds light on as many unique facets of life as there are colors of skin and ways to dance. In a period during which race finally has moved forward in the national spotlight, these essays should be required reading.   


Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is always reading and writing.