age range: 10 – 14 years
genre / topics: historical fiction; immigrant families, Great Recession
Sheela Chari’s website
★ Karthik is a compassionate and deeply funny narrator, and his journey of self-discovery while balancing familial obligation and chasing his dreams endears and inspires.
―Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
★ A memorable, contemporary story about growing up and learning about yourself. Karthik grapples with timeless teen issues–fitting in, bullying, parental pressures–as well as more modern problems that might parallel issues kids are dealing with today.
―Shelf-Awareness, Starred Review
Chari delivers an authentic examination of the complexities of immigrant family life during the Great Recession, taking a realistic but compassionate look at parents vicariously chasing the American dream through their children. . .This is an encouraging endorsement of reciprocal support that celebrates the possibility (and necessity) of allowing our goals to change.
―The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The author successfully avoids tired tropes about unsupportive immigrant parents by telling a multigenerational story that, most notably, examines how Karthik’s parents grapple with their own dreaming. A refreshingly nuanced novel about what it means to chase your dreams.
Chari’s prose has a very conversational tone, which adds to the book’s authenticity and ease of reading. . .A wonderful realistic fiction title about a young Indian boy following his heart.
―School Library Journal
This is a really fun interview to share. Sheela and I met years ago as part of a debut author group. Now I get to host her on my blog — what a treat! Sheela, please tell us about Karthik Delivers.
Karthik Delivers is an upper middle grade novel about about fourteen-year old Karthik Raghavan, who is stuck one summer delivering groceries for his father’s ailing store, when he gets the unexpected chance to star as the lead in a play about a famous musician. The story is set in a suburb of Boston in 2009, during the height of the Financial Crisis.
What inspired you to write this story?
I wanted to write about the joy and uncertainty of being young, creative, or both. Karthik isn’t sure if he wants to be an actor, but by the end of the novel, he opens up his life to this possibility. This is not unlike the same journey I made towards becoming a writer. I also grew up playing classical violin and songs from the musical, West Side Story, so I internalized much of that music written by Leonard Bernstein. I love the story of how Bernstein became a musician, when his Aunt Clara sent his family her piano when he was a young boy and that jump-started his career in music. I like to think that when we get these gifts in life, it’s a message from the universe telling us that it’s okay to dream.
Could you share with readers what you learned while researching for your book?
For this book, I learned about Bernstein’s early life in the Boston area, including the story of the piano that was received from his Aunt Clara. That would become the subject of the play that Karthik stars in, about young Lenny and his first piano. Like Karthik does in the book, I watched videos of Bernstein playing at the piano with his characteristic flourish, and his hand traveling up in the air after hitting an exuberant note.
I also learned about acting and discovered An Actor’s Tricks, a book by Yoshi Oida, a Japanese actor and stage director. Oida’s book not only gave me insight into the relationship between the actor and the audience, but the idea of using props to show what a character is thinking or feeling. This reminded me of my own writing, and using objects the same way to show relationships between people. For example, the mangos that Karthik delivers to Mrs. Rodrigues, ones of the customers, is not just about the fruit, but the quality of time and attention he pays as he gets to know her.
What are some special challenges associated with paralleling your book with an unfamiliar time or setting?
When I first started writing this story, the year was 2009, the same year the book is set. However, it took me about 12 years to write and sell the work, so the book turned into historical fiction by default! I could have chosen to update the year, however, I decided against it because 2009 turned out to be an important moment in our history. The Financial Crisis of 2008-2009 was a time of great economic uncertainty as families lost jobs, homes, and financial security. As we now experience a different kind of uncertainty during Covid, I thought the Financial Crisis could be another way of understanding what it’s like to figure out what you love to do under crisis. This could be a career in music, acting, or any of the creative arts. But it could also mean becoming a doctor one day or owning a grocery store.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
I think that middle school is a special, transformative time in young peoples’ lives, right before high school, when they are just starting to think about their future and own agency. In immigrant households like the ones Karthik and I grew up in, we have expectations on us to work hard and excel, but we need to balance that with our own aspirations and learning to think for ourselves. This starts with trying new things — acting in a play, joining the robotics club, or learning to knit. It’s so important to engage with the world. (I think that can be true for adults, too!)
The book also deals with the idea of accepting who you are and embracing the many communities that form you. The other part of this story is Karthik’s crush on Juhi. Juhi is Indian-American like him, and he’s liked her ever since kindergarten. Does Juhi like him back? It’s hard to say. She’s conflicted about her feelings, plus she has her sights set on another boy named Jacob, who has been bullying Karthik and making fun of his name. Every time he does, Karthik remains silent. Why doesn’t Karthik stand up to this bully? It could be that a lot of prejudices that Karthik deals with are coming from inside his own community, along the lines of thinking Indian boys are uncool and nerdy. It’s these same stereotypes that Juhi harbors, too.
Through conversations between Karthik and his sister, and with Juhi, I hope to dismantle these stereotypes by naming them and reframing the way my characters think. These conversations are sometimes painful, but also funny, because I think humor is a great way to bridge painful truths. For me, it was important for Karthik to use empathy and jokes to eventually stand up for himself. It was also important to show Juhi learning to appreciate Karthik for who he is.
I hope classrooms can discuss how expectations from both families and peers can be barriers to success, unless we reframe the way we see ourselves as a part of several, intersecting communities.
Planning on preordering Jasper (releasing in paperback 6/28) or Miraculous (releasing in hardback 7/26)? Or maybe you’ve already preordered? If so, you’re eligible for some fun giveaways. Click through to learn more.