Review: Secret Keeper, Mitali Perkins

For some reason I can’t seem to finish any books these days.  There are a number of factors involved.  I have a lot of good books right now.  I am rereading Fables as well as several volumes of L.M. Montgomery’s generally-predictable-but-sweet-nevertheless short stories.  I’m also reading The Two Towers, The Bell, Yes Means Yes, and more of Tom Stoppard’s plays.  I have fallen back in love with a still-untitled (I’m crap at titles) story I’ve been working on for ages, so I’m working on rewriting that.  Having scheduled a Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Marathon with my sister and her boyfriend for later on in the month, I have also found myself absolutely craving epic trilogies, so I’ve been rewatching Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Secret Keeper is set in 1970s India.  When sixteen-year-old Asha’s engineer father moves to America to find work as an engineer, Asha and her sister Reet and their mother (whose depression Reet and Asha call The Jailor) go to Calcutta to live with their father’s family as they wait for their father to send for them.  Beautiful Reet receives attention from the local boys, and their uncle begins receiving proposals for her.  Asha, darker-skinned, resourceful and athletic, is determined to save her sister from marriage; at the same time she begins to develop a relationship with an artist neighbor called Jay.

For a book set in 1970s India, this book did not say very much about what was going on in 1970s India.  I was expecting more of a historical perspective going into the book, and for a while I was annoying that I wasn’t getting it.  As the book continued, though, it became clear that the girls’ limited awareness of the outside world was intentional, one among several ways of depicting the circumscribed lives of women in India at this time.  Reet and Asha are hardly ever allowed to leave the house, let alone – as Asha longs to do – play cricket with the neighbors.  Perkins does a fantastic job of conveying the enforced narrowness of their lives as young adult females, while not forgetting to give Asha enough to do that we see her as an independent, brave, intelligent person.

It’s a bleak view of being a woman, and reminds me, at the same time I am reading ferocious indictments of rape culture in Yes Means Yes, that I am (comparatively) fantastically lucky to be living in this country in this time period.  Though Asha dreams of becoming a psychiatrist, her best hope while living with her uncle is that someone will offer to marry her.  And Perkins doesn’t pull any punches: things do not end up all sunshine and roses for Asha and her family.  Worst-case scenarios are avoided, but best-case ones don’t come to pass either.  It is effective, and sad.  I am glad I live here and now and I can go shopping alone and wear shorts and decide if and who and why I want to marry.

Because it made me so grateful for my life as a twenty-first-century American woman, in interesting counterpoint to how angry I feel when I read Yes Means Yes, I’m going to count this for the Women Unbound Challenge.

P.S. Friends across the pond, will you please explain cricket to me?  I found the Wikipedia article bewildering.  My impression is that the batter bats the ball that is bowled by the bowler in an attempt to prevent the ball from knocking over the batter’s wicket.  But I also have the impression that there are two batters, and I can’t figure out what the second one is for.  Is the batter meant to knock over the bowler’s wicket?  When a batter gets a run, is s/he they running back and forth between the two wickets, or running in a diamond/circle shape like in baseball, or something totally else?  How many players are there on the field (pitch?) at once?  Would there ever be more than one person from the batting team trying to make runs at the same time?  TELL ME EVERYTHING.

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22 thoughts on “Review: Secret Keeper, Mitali Perkins

    • No, I did, I liked it a lot actually. I gave it three stars because it took me a long time to get into it, and the first half of the book sort of lacked urgency for me. But you’re right, I haven’t really said many nice things about it here. *edits*

  1. I am so looking forward to your thoughts on Yes Means Yes! And you’re right: I often rant and rave about my culture/country/the world in general, but there really is a lot to be grateful for.

    • I am nearly done with it! My original plan was to read one essay a night before bed, but I keep seeing the titles of the next essays and getting curious, and reading four in a row. So many thought-provoking topics.

  2. Hmm, cricket. I don’t really understand it either. Here’s my best shot.

    *My impression is that the batter bats the ball that is bowled by the bowler in an attempt to prevent the ball from knocking over the batter’s wicket. –> Correct

    *But I also have the impression that there are two batters, and I can’t figure out what the second one is for. Is the batter meant to knock over the bowler’s wicket? –> No, you have one batter at each end and they run back and forth, crossing over. So if there’s an odd number of runs, they have switched places and the second guy gets a chance to bat.

    *When a batter gets a run, is s/he they running back and forth between the two wickets, or running in a diamond/circle shape like in baseball, or something totally else? –> Back and forth between the two wickets.

    * How many players are there on the field (pitch?) at once? –> Not sure. I think probably the whole fielding team including the bowler, plus two batters at any one time.

    * Would there ever be more than one person from the batting team trying to make runs at the same time? –> As above, they switch places to make a run, but it’s really only the person who was actually batting who can actually score a run. Also if the ball goes over the boundary line you automatically score 6 (?) runs.

    Clear as mud? I think so! Can someone who actually knows please correct me if I’m wrong…

      • Bill Bryson wrote the best description EVER of listening to cricket on the radio. It’s in Down Under, when he’s driving across Australia and it’s the only channel he can pick up on the car radio.

        Aha, here it is: http://exitrowseating.blogspot.com/2006/11/cricket-and-other-things.html

        I agree, though, that this is probably much funnier if you have actually heard cricket on the radio. It truly is like that. Very quiet, calm, and leisurely, with lots of ridiculous technical terms like “silly mid-on” (a fielding position). You can almost feel the gentle sunshine and taste the cucumber sandwiches.

  3. Yup still have no idea how to play cricket. Sounds like a corss between american football and baseball. I’ll just have to travel across the moat to see 🙂 or watch Bollywood movies. Both are a win-win.

    Ooo I love hearing that a book I recommended someone liked 🙂 I wish you had loved it though but I can understand where your coming from when you say the book started off slow and you wanted more historical background. I thought we did learn more about the history because Indira Gandhi was mentioned quite a bit, about how the country was getting out of control and she was going to have put restrictions on certain things.

    I agree, I finished this book so glad to live in the 21st century in America! I have come to a fuller appreciation of my freedom as a girl. Asha is (I would say) unbound.

    And the ending *DIES* (note: that’s not what really happens everyone! I’m justs aying I wanted to die) haha overly dramatic much? Yes but I was quite upset about it and I want it re-written. lol. or a sequel.

    BTW LOVE the part in Pirates when we first meet Capt. Jack Sparrow and when Barbossa/Geofrrey Rush is standing on the pirates ship. I WANT Jack’s boots.

    • OMG the ending was awful! Not awful in a badly-written way, but awful in that I desperately wanted someone to swoop in at the last minute and save the day and nobody did! That really drove home for me how limited these girls’ options were, in that time and that country.

      I have Jack’s boots. At least a reasonable approximation of them. They are extremely piratey. 🙂

  4. Just to say that I’ve read Parisreader’s account of cricket and yes, that’s all correct. My dad is a huge cricket fan, and my best friend at school was too, but even so I managed to survive all those summers with only the most basic appreciation of the game. There are two teams, and to begin with team 1 fields and team 2 bats. So all of team 1 are out on the ground, the bowling probably shared between two or three of their players who are most talented at it, everyone else out in the field trying to catch (if you catch it clean, the batter is out). This is the first innings. Then when the bowlers have bowled all the batters out, the teams switch around, and the other team gets a chance to bat and off we go again. The team with the most runs wins.

    A crickerter who hits the boundary line with his ball gets awarded 4 runs, and if it clears the boundary, 6.

    The match is counted in overs, and an over is 6 x bowler running up and chucking said bowl at batsman. If the batsman doesn’t manage to make any runs for those 6 attempts it’s declared a ‘maiden’ over. Hence the old old jokey line – ‘to bowl a maiden over’.

  5. Cricket looks bewilderingly complicated! I count myself lucky to live in this day and age (and country) too. It is very nice to have the freedoms that we have. Great review!

  6. This sounds interesting, although since you had difficulty getting into it, I wonder if I would too. We have SO much to be thankful for living in this culture. Thanks for the thought-provoking review.

    • Part of it for me was that I got confused between the two sisters. I thought Reet was going to be the point of view character, and then I kept getting confused when Asha was the younger, less beautiful sister.

  7. I was on my college Women’s Cricket Team at university and we always played limited overs – otherwise cricket matches (rather like Quidditch) can go on for three days. Not many girls’ schools teach cricket and in fact mine didn’t, I learned the game from my brother so I would be able to provide practise for him (we made a wicket on our front lawn). I was an okay bat but couldn’t bowl for toffee – it’s harder than it looks!

    • Then let me ask you too: How do the field people make the batters stop getting runs? Do they return the ball to the bowler, chuck it at the batting team’s wicket, or what?

  8. Pingback: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins « Word Lily

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