Yuh Gyal's in High School : Dear Divya by Saira Batasar-Johnie


Author Origin: Toronto, Ontario

Page Count: 76
Genre: Young Adult
Difficulty: Easy
Grade Level: 9
Key Talking Points: culture, family, relationships, high school life (See teacher note section for guided questions)
Sensitive Subject Matter: light cursing, racism, physical assault

Summary: Anjali hasn't been used to seeing herself represented in the faces of her peers, so when she starts high school and is exposed to a more diverse crowd, she has to decide how she fits in, taking the opportunity to become a new version of herself. However, that involves navigating friend groups, standing up for herself, and challenging long-standing beliefs in her family. Sprinkle in some romance and teenage dramatics and readers will follow Anjali through the ups and downs of her grade nine year. 

Anjali is Indo-Guyanese and Indian, and this short novel, primarily written from Anjali's perspective, is generous with culture references, diction, and traditions. Anjali is bullied for some of these things, but also finds her strength in them. Readers will need to read aloud some of the slang if they cannot decode the meaning from spelling alone, but even if this presents a little challenge, the language adds an authenticity and flavour to the text that helps set it apart. 

One of the mysteries of the text is found in the letters Anjali writes to Divya- the namesake of the book. While readers get some details as to who Divya is to Anjali, it is not clear why she isn't present in Anjali's life. There are hints of grief and loss, but we aren't yet given any specifics. This is one of the teasers to make readers continue with the series. 

Another teaser is in the relationship Anjali has with a boy from her school. The romance is very innocent and age appropriate for high-school readers, with a few questions left unanswered to lead into the second book. 

One of my favourite parts of this book is the relationships between Anjali and her family. Despite having a hinted at history of strife with her older sister Amara, the two quickly bond in the high school environment: Amara looking out for Anjali, and Anjali looking up to Amara. Their interactions are very sweet and give the book heart. The sisters have a very strict mother, trying to make up for a father who is rarely present. Despite the pressure to stick to "books over man", Amara is dating a fellow student from another culture- a double defiance. However, the way the author portrays this union, and the fallout from it in the family, helps to challenge what many would have seen as deeply ingrained. Books for young readers that make them question their norms are an important part of bringing positive change to our society.  

Teacher Note: The author comments in the foreword on how rare it is to read about Indo-Caribbean protagonists. She often struggled to connect to the stories she read as a student herself. She hopes her story will be used in classrooms so that this experience won't be repeated by young Caribbean girls and boys.  

The length and writing style of this novel make it suitable for a grade 9 classroom, which aligns nicely as the students will be experiencing the same transition into high school as Anjali. It could be read as a class novel, with students taking turns or read by the teacher, or used in small groups/ literature circles.  

An easy way to engage students before reading is through an anticipation guide or discussion questions. Some examples could be: 
-Discuss a place where you feel the most comfortable being yourself.
-Have you ever felt like an outsider? Explain the situation and how you were able to persevere through it. 
-Have you ever had to choose between friends or take the side of one friend over another? What criteria did you use to make your decision?
-Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend?
-Have you ever disagreed with your parents on an important issue? 
-Have you ever kept an important secret from your family?
-Describe your first days of high school. What was unique about your experience? 
-What criteria do you use to choose your friends?
-Should you always do what your parents say?
-Should you always follow your family’s/culture’s traditions?

During reading, students could be taught and practice different reading strategies:
-Making connections: text to self, text to text, text to world connections
-Summarizing: short summaries of each chapter
-Research: have students look up unfamiliar references to songs, items, or foods from the story
-Predictions: have students make predictions about what they think will happen next
-Questioning: have students ask questions about what they are reading in the text

For consolidation, students could answer overarching questions that examine the themes and style of the text, such as:
-Why does the author choose to switch from third person omniscient to first person limited narration after the first chapter? What impact does this have on the story?
-What actions does Anjali take in the story that you disagree with? 
-Is Anjali’s high school experience common or exceptional? Explain your answer.
-Why do you believe Anjali and Amara’s relationship in the novel is different from what Anjali expected? 

A possible assessment activity could be a letter to a loved one of their own, following letter writing conventions. Another option would be to have students debate some of Anjali's more questionable decisions, for example, her relationships with her friends Shantelle and Kristen. 

Finally, as the novel is written in simple, straight-forward prose, there is lots of room for students to explore their own narrative voice to fill in some of the gaps created by the first person point-of-view. They could write from the perspective of Anjali's friends Kristen or Shantelle, her sister Amara, or even her mother. They could also revisit moments in Anjali’s perspective. Instruct them to use rich, descriptive language to paint a picture with their writing.

Final Thought: Every reader deserves to see themselves represented on the page. That's why books like this one should be celebrated and elevated. 

Read a sample HERE and purchase it HERE

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