On Tuesday, the first Cake Literary project, Tiny Pretty Things, officially had its book launch (May 26!) and it has been a blur since. It’s hard to believe it’s only been three days! The novel is no longer an abstract idea, it’s real and in bookstores all over the world. Go to one. You’ll find it! Take a photo of it and hashtag it #TinyPrettyThings. Read a mini-review of it as well as a list of some fantastic novels with diversity to read over the summer: A Summer Reading List That Won’t Make Your Teeth Hurt.
Here’s the book trailer:
And here is the world famous book critic and capoeirista-kickboxing-ballerina, who used to be so harsh in her book reviews during her earlier years, she would simply start eating a book if she didn’t find it worth reading. It takes her over a minute to give us the premise because she wants to make sure you get it. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers. Mainly because she doesn’t know them. Yet!
My mom and sister are avid readers of fiction, and Sona is constantly giving them new book suggestions of things to read. One day, Mum was talking at length about this scene in a novel she was reading as part of Oprah’s Book Club. She provided all sorts of details about it – the caste violence, the characters, including a stubborn willful son who insists on going against the authority, even that the author is Canadian. She told me the name of the novel was, Equilibrium. I’m fascinated by the scene and the novel. I go out and try to find it everywhere. Nothing. Turns out she was talking about, A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. That’s my Mum.
My dad has never really been a reader of fiction. He reads occasional non-fiction and Punjabi fiction, but the main things he avidly reads are poetry collections or books on poetic craft, Punjabi and English. He even performed some of his original Punjabi poetry at an open mic at The Poet’s Passage in Puerto Rico during our family vacation last year in the midst of some fantastic Spanish poets.
My dad especially loves to read when he travels. When he visited me in China more than a decade ago during the whole SARS scare, a lot of places were closed, and he had a fine time reading through Peter Hessler’s, River town, a FAT memoir detailing his two years teaching in a border town in Sichuan with deeply moving personal observations, weaving in the lives of his students, and historical components. Profound, philosophical, introspective, esoteric, existentialist stuff. That’s what my dad reads.
So, me and Sona never expected my Dad to be so immersed in Tiny Pretty Things, a novel about ballerinas in a cutthroat Manhattan ballet academy. Here’s how it all went down. There’s a video at the end of the post as well.
When the advanced copies came out in November, Sona immediately set one aside for my Mum and sister, who actively read fiction. We wrapped it up and gave it to Mum as a Christmas present during our family vacation to Puerto Rico. We were at a lovely house we found on AirBnb, a few steps from the beach and a ten minute drive from the gorgeous rainforest, El Yunque. My dad was outside relaxing and we literally dragged him off the beach and into the house, where Mum was sitting on the sofa drinking her cha. He was not happy and wanted to get this formality over with so he could return outside.
Mum starts opening the package, and they’re both excited that it’s the first printing of Sona’s novel. My mum would have probably set it aside and slowly read it over the course of a few weeks. My dad, however, is immediately enthralled. He does love pink, the color of joy, even if the font is meant to resemble broken shards of glass.
He skips returning to the beach, doesn’t change his clothes, and goes straight under the covers of the bunk bed to start reading. Eventually, he reluctantly gets up to change into his night suit.
Yes, that’s the gorgeous beach and ocean back there, with a lovely breeze, and coconut trees! The next morning, afternoon, evening, essentially every moment after usurping the novel, he tries to keep reading. If he’d had his way, we would have skipped walking Old San Juan’s cobbled streets and going to the historic forts, or visiting the bioluminescent bay, just as long as he could find a nice quiet place to sit and read Tiny Pretty Things!
Enter the grand daughter.
His favourite place. Away from everyone. Just him and the battle for Prima Ballerina, with the drama unfolding between Gigi and Bette and June. He is very clearly Team Gigi because, as he puts it: “Gigi just wants to dance. Everyone else is busy trying to break each other’s legs.” That should be somewhere in the tagline. Dad attempted to read in many more places than just these. He read on the beach, in the hammock, and even valiantly tried to read in the car while squashed between my Shaiyar and Kavya in carseats, and Mum on a bumpy, windy road to Guavate, the famous barbecue highway. Then he let out a resigned sigh and was forced to interact with us.
Here is a video of the whole thing. At the end, my dad insists on having the book autographed.
And the funniest thing is that a few days ago after the novel launched, my parents immediately went out to their local Barnes and Noble in Fresno and found five copies left! They sent me photos and Dad is wearing the SAME SHIRT as he was wearing in Puerto Rico.
On a serious note, this is an incredibly proud moment for all of us. Not just because Sona published a novel centering on a black ballerina, or that it’s getting rave reviews from major press or appearing on “mainstream” lists, who recognize the writing is fierce and the tension finely tuned. Cake Literary is the product of two stubborn brown girls who met at the New School Writing for Children MFA program and wanted to change the established rules. They created a company focusing on weaving in diversity organically to high concept stories. Not just stories about teachable moments, or dry, moral lessons during black history month, but stories little brown and black boys and girls can read or see on television or in movies usually populated almost entirely by white people.
Our daughter was all of four when she felt the weight of institutionalized racism and cried because she didn’t have white skin like all the main characters in the shows she watches and books she reads (read the post here). It was the same feeling Sona had growing up. Denying someone representation is denying them humanity. And this Mama wasn’t having any of that. A revolution is beginning, and that’s what I’m most excited about. Not just this novel, but all the novels that will come after this and the significant role Cake Literary, along with organizations like We Need Diverse Books, is going to have in shaping the future. Our kids will grow up in a world where her Mama helped change the landscape to make it look like America. Like the world. Please support the revolution by heading over to your local bookshop! Or if you must, order “Tiny Pretty Things” on Amazon, review it on goodreads, and use the hashtag #TinyPrettyThings and #CakeLiterary to spread the word!