Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tina's Mouth: Shizz Brown Girls Say to Dead White Philosophers

So in light of that S*** Girls say to ... subversive meme that's been all over the interwebz lately (see this round up on Racialicious if you missed it or were having an extra-long cyber-blackout protesting SOPA or something), I was thinking that Keshni Kashyap's delightful Tina's Mouth  could potentially be subtitled "s*** brown girls say to dead white philosophers."

Actually called an "existential comic diary," the coming-of-age graphic has been compared to both Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese. In it, the titular Tina writes to the occularly challenged French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre ("I like your face and your wandering eye, which makes you seem as if you were looking in two directions at once.")  as part of a high school class in existentialism, and Mon Ami JP ends up bearing witness to the break up of her deep friendship with an ex-Mormon named Alex, her crush on a flakey skateboarder, her role in the school play (Kurosawa's Roshomon!), and her interactions with the Indian community (including an Auntie affectionately called "Hook-dat-S***-Up" Auntie for her "superhuman matchmaking abilities."), among other existential high school adventures.

I absolutely loved the book, and found myself laughing out loud at several points. And in part, that might have been why I loved it so much - what was the last book about an Indian American girl that was so laugh-out-loud funny? (there are a few, but should I really be able to count them on my fingers?)

The expectation seems to be that brown girl coming of age stories will be more angst-ridden, more sweeping and epic, more to do with Cultcha (with a capital C) than everyone else's coming of age stories (as the aforementioned meme might say "You're so, like, exotic. Like, jai ho, you know?") Tina's Mouth addresses race, racism, and immigrant community dynamics, yes, but with an equal dose of humor, intellect and wacky surreality.

The Hindu legend says that as a baby, the Lord Krisha was very naughty. As he was playing in the dirt one day, his mother saw him eating a good amount of soil. Now, she knew that -  whether blue skinned and divine or not - that couldn't be good for his tiny godly digestive track. But when his mother Yashoda went to scold him, and get that e-coli outa there, she was startled to find the entire universe inside her infant's mouth. Swirling planets, stars, galaxies within the body of a tiny babe.

So is explained (or perhaps made more confusing) many aspects of Hindu philosophy - the child as guru, the interchangeability of inner and outer space, the interconnections between of the universe and the individual, the mystery and ambiguity of life itself, the deep lessons in the every day, the presence of the divine in the mundane.

In Keshni Kashyap's new book, there are galaxies of insight - about race, about teenage life, about love and life and family and friendship and romance, and really bad high school theater - swirling around within the body of her fictional heroine's story. Both enlightening and off the hook hilarious, the book is simply divine.

Go on, Keshni, hook dat s*** up. Like, jai ho, y'all.

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