BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, April 26, 2020

#Everyone Counts! Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj

Chris Daniels and I are like separate planets orbiting in the same galaxy. Like Venus and Earth, we are next door neighbors.

We've been in the same school since I moved to the neighborhood in third grade.Then, of all the crappy karma, there he is, in seventh grade, in five out of seven of my classes. And Chris was a witness to one of the worst moments in my middle-school life.

In sixth grade Karina and her friend Ashley call the boys "hyenas" because they single out the people they picked out to embarrass on the bus ride home, which seemed to bring out that notorious middle-school meanness.
Quinn, or Hyena 1, said, "Let's make a list of the girls with the hairiest arms."

Together the hyenas said, "K Chops."

I, Karina Chopra, was the only one on the list.

But when Karina's grandfather comes to live with them, he volunteers to tutor seventh graders in math after school, and Karina finds herself getting to know Chris Daniels as the two become friends. But walking home from school, sharing a bag of berries and laughs with her grandfather and Chris, the three are suddenly approached by a man with a knife. He goes up to Chris.
When this guy first approaches he touches my hair in a strange way. He asks me if I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be?

Alarm bells ring. My heart pounds when he calls Mr. Chopra nasty names. Then he turns on me, pushes me down. When the monster pushes Mr. C. down, I wince as I hear his body smack the ground.

"Terrorists don't belong here," the man says, and gives Mr. C. a kick.

Karina's grandfather has a fractured leg and is in intensive care at the hospital, and as they pray for his recovery, Karina decides to fight back against racism. She returns with her camera to the place where the attack occurred:
Mr. K's Ghandi-style glasses are shattered on the street. One of his sandals lies there, too. The berries we were eating are strewn all over. The burst strawberries look like splattered blood.

With a green chalk Karina draws a heart around that spot and makes a photograph that she posts on social media with the hashtags #HateHasNoHomeHere and #CountMeIn.

There are some hate mails, but Karina's messages go viral, and the community rallies to support her family, in Varsha Bajaj moving account, Count Me In (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019). Writing without sensationalism, author Varsha Bajaj, tells the story of a hate crime in straight-forward prose, allowing her characters Karina and Chris to tell the story in alternating chapters that reinforce the hopeful message that discrimination and hate based on national origin has no place among American citizens. At a time when immigration is a point of contention, this novel tells the story from the point of view of both narrators and the courage of others who unite behind them.

“Compassionate, relatable characters. The story celebrates resilience, the power of community, and even the benefits of social media during a time when hate crimes against the Indian Diaspora are on the rise. Karina's message, that we are stronger together, will easily resonate with readers,” says Booklist's reviewer.

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