Unbelonging by Gayatri Sethi, 293 pages, Can be read in 4-6 depending on your speed but should be read slowly, Young Adult

A quote that I really appreciated: “You say condescending. I say badass. Namaste. Bless your heart.”

Sethi, p. 171

I finished this book about a week ago and I’ve been struggling to write the review. How do you put into words why someone MUST (not should) read a book that resonated with your soul? Because that’s what this book did. Most of the MG/YA books I read are the ones I wish I had growing up. This is one I needed.

Unbelonging by Gayatri Sethi is a memoir, except it’s not. It’s poetic, except it’s not. Like Sethi—and like so many of us—it’s complicated, except it’s not. Sethi draws on her personal experiences of being multilingual and polycultural to reflect on a variety of topics, including identity, immigration, inclusion, social justice, colonization, and more. But she does so in unexpected ways and in ways that make you (re)think.

The construction of this book is also unexpected. Sethi invites you to write in the book with prompts for reflection, pages to create your own glossary and reading lists, and call-outs for topics to research and authors to read. In other words, it can be used as a textbook, except it’s not.

And really, the “except it’s not” is probably the best way to describe this book. If you go into it expecting a standard memoir or a book of poetry, you’ll be disappointed. And you’ll miss out on all the richness Sethi not only brings in her writing, but also brings out in us as her readers.

Photo of Gayatri Sethi’s Unbelonging with candles circling it.

But if you go into it wanting to know more about anti-racism, being someone who stands against injustice, and understanding what it means to not belong in ways everyone expects/wants you to, then you will gain so much from this book.

And of the best things I got from this book was a reminder that it’s okay to look up words you don’t know. Sethi’s writing draws from her multilingual background and I really appreciate that she doesn’t translate the words she uses. She just uses them. Because that’s what people who speak more than one language do. And it’s on us to figure it out. Because that’s what those of us who don’t speak a language should do.

This is also a book that is meant to be shared. I shared so many passages with friends and family of all backgrounds and it led to lovely text conversations. Share this book with friends, colleagues, and, if you’re an educator, your students.

And share this book with the kids in your life. As I said, this was a book I needed growing up. I would have been so much better prepared for my own life of unbelonging than I was. Maybe I would have found my own voice sooner or been better prepared for life in academia (when I tell you I wanted to hug “Aunty Professor”…). But at least I have it now. And least now I know I’m not alone.

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