Best Friends Forever Life Stories Life

Friends can break up too and it’s painful

I’m sure everyone has had the displeasure of a friendship break up in their life – for me personally, I’ve been through two; one during my time at secondary school and one as an adult. Neither was easy to get through. 

Friends are valuable people in any individual’s life – a spare sibling if you will, away from home, out in an environment similar to yours. Kids cartoons advocate the importance of having a friend in life, but why is it that when a friendship breaks down, we don’t treat it the same as when a romantic relationship falls apart? We do end up telling our friends the most personal aspects of our lives and when the friendship goes sour, it fills us with anxiety and loneliness. But because the topic is not widely discussed, many people are inclined to believe that they’re not valid for feeling that way, in truth they are and the conversation starts here. 

My friends in my life now are a huge part of who I am as a person. I’m thankful that the friends I made as an adult are not enablers and are more than comfortable discussing and helping me solve any problems that come my way. But I only made proper friends as an adult; an experience from secondary school had left me traumatized to the point of me seeking therapy and isolating myself from people in general. 

I suffer from quite a few health problems; I’ve always been a little weaker than the average person in terms of health and often my peers at school would mock me for it. Whether it was for my broken finger that never healed, my constant migraines and nosebleeds or for my weight gain attributed to PCOS – I was an easy target and I lived with it. That was until I got halfway through secondary school and met a girl who wasted no time defending me against people calling me fat amongst other things. She was the first friend I had who would actually do something about people bullying me. Bit by bit, I started confiding in her; she knew everything. My health problems, arguments I had with my siblings, people I disliked in school. One day, she decided she wasn’t my friend anymore.

She would bully me as much as everyone else but of course, with me having told her everything about me, she had much more to bully me about. I don’t know why the friendship broke down but I remember begging her to tell me why. I just wanted to apologize and move on. I asked her via text to please forgive me if I had done anything to offend her and I would just stay out of her way – her exact words were “you think I’ll just leave you alone because you asked? You really are pathetic”. My biggest regret to date is telling her about a health scare I had – something I was cleared of and never got to tell my once best friend about. Instead, she went around telling everyone I lied about my health problems which resulted in even the nicest kids at school ignoring me. The next two years of school were hell – my parents grew concerned with the fluctuations in my mood and weight but didn’t know how to help me.  I only started the process of healing when another girl in school known for visiting the school counselor reached out to help me by directing me to the loveliest therapist I have ever known. 

When I left school, I continued going to counseling but the damage was already done. I made no friends that I communicated with during sixth form due to the trust issues I had developed and not to mention that my low self-esteem meant that I would deprecate myself before anyone else could. It didn’t help that I faced the same thing all over again when I started working part-time but there was something I had realized the second time around; trust your gut. Going to therapy has taught me one thing in abundance and that is your mind will do anything to protect you from harm. My previous issue with my ‘friend’ had made me hate myself to such an extent, I couldn’t even trust myself around family members, let alone people outside of that. Seeking help after that rough patch taught me to trust myself again so the second friendship failure hit me less hard than the first. Not to say that it didn’t hurt at all because that would be a bald-faced lie but this time I knew I couldn’t let myself get to where I was before. 

So what am I saying? I’m saying that people come and go – even when we don’t want them to. Friendships fall apart for many reasons; some are malicious and some aren’t and it is okay to not want to be friends with someone you have outgrown. But tell someone – it’s not ridiculous at all and it helps in the long run with a wide array of things. Having experienced what I have done made me realize that I wasn’t the only one that lost a friend, the other person did too. 

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Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor. 

Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.

Here’s why tattoos are more than just skin deep

There has always been a lingering, extremely negative stigma around tattoos. Whether that be the impression that they’re a reckless craft or profession, that they’re a reflection of unprofessionalism on the wearer, or that the kind of person who gets tattoos is a bad influence and misguided. My whole life, the narrative that tattoos are associated with illegal activities and reckless behaviour has been practically embedded into my social imagining. For a while, I believed it too. I thought that having a tattoo very much meant being unsuccessful in the career that I chose and that I would be going against the picture that had been painted for me. And in doing so, I would be letting everyone around me down, everyone who played some kind of part in raising me. Funnily enough, these are the same people who told me countless times that it is important to march to the beat of my own drum and to be the captain of my own ship. Go figure.

Especially being a girl, I’ve been told that tattoos are ugly, inappropriate, and distasteful. That the second I taint my body with ink, the body that is also supposed to be my own canvas, my worth diminishes dramatically. People start to look at me differently. I am no longer the girl that they thought I was. In a matter of seconds, their entire perception of me changes and everything they know about me is altered. 

This is the reality for so many young people and it is incredibly disheartening because most tattoos, if not all, can hold a deeper meaning. Plus, it shouldn’t even matter if the tattoo is meaningful or not, as long as the person adorned by it is happy and comfortable. Tattoos can be an exceptional medium for self-expression. Every little detail in a tattoo is an example of individuality that is impossible to replicate because everyone’s skin and everyone’s intent is entirely different. 

Most tattoos are real-life embellishments drenched in symbolism and motifs, and if you really think about it, tattoos are beautiful beyond being art. They are meant to be read like a book and tell you something about the wearer. You can learn a multitude of unspoken stories about a person just by looking at their tattoos, and these are usually the things that are most dear to their heart and truly make them who they are. These are the things that they’re so determined to never let go of that they literally make it a part of their skin and their blood. They tell you stories of growth, romance, culture, grief, passion, religion, wit, and determination. People wear art that speaks to them and makes them feel something. Tattoos are a love story in and of themselves. 

I cherish my tattoo. It’s a very small pink dove near my left rib cage. I was 18 years old at the time that I got it done. Most people thought that I was acting in defiance, that I was being rebellious, and that I would regret it eventually. 

Well, they were all wrong. 

I wasn’t being defiant and I will never regret it. I got my tattoo because it is something that I knew I needed to do for myself if I was ever going to move past what had happened, if I was ever going to move forward. That year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a double mastectomy, and went through multiple rounds of chemotherapy. With all of those odds against her, she survived. She is the strongest woman that I’ve ever known and will ever know. 

But still, the pressure and the helplessness that I felt and continue to feel can sometimes seem never-ending. I can never shake that fear, no matter how relieved I am to be out of the thick of it. So, I decided to commemorate the moment with something meaningful that is mine, and mine entirely. 

My favorite quote from the novel Jane Eyre says this: “I am no bird and no net ensnares me, I am a free human being with an independent will.” That quote seemed to describe what I was feeling, and really what I needed to be told, effortlessly. So, my bird is pink for breast cancer. I got it as a daily reminder of strength, resilience, and soaring above the ashes, just as my mother did. I too can soar.

Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

I’m Kashmiri – poetry helped me embrace that

“I’m Kashmiri.” 

It’s a simple sentence – two words, to be exact. But it took me over a decade to say it with conviction. Or to say it at all, for that matter. Despite being raised to take pride in my ethnicity, it was something I never truly connected with. How could I call myself Kashmiri after everything that my family had been through because of Kashmir? 

I belong to the community of Pandits. As far as I’ve been told, our roots have been in the Valley since forever. That was, until violence cloaked its landscape in the 90s, and my kin was left with no option but to escape the land that was once home. What they hoped would be a week’s disruption lasted 25 years, and before they knew it, their lives would never be the same again. The destiny of their future generations had been rewritten forever; their sense of stability and identity had been gruesomely torn apart by politics. 

Growing up, I was a first-hand witness to the effects of this unexpected displacement. It was the little things that had the most impact on me, like the several times I caught my grandfather admiring a picture of the Dal Lake on his wall, to the way my grandmother wished she’d had a moment to say goodbye. There was this unspoken longing for home that seemed to linger just on the outskirts of every conversation we had. And throughout our talks, I’d wonder how they could speak so fondly of a place that reminded them of so much pain.

But it was perhaps years later, through the strangest of mediums, that I learned to embrace my identity. When I picked up reading poetry, I expected nothing but boring sonnets glamorizing love. To my surprise, I discovered accounts of women of color who had similar experiences and were using words as a medium to heal from their own transgenerational trauma.  I’d found my catharsis, and it altered my perspective on a lot of things, including what being Kashmiri truly meant. 

It made me look beyond my angst and realize the resilience my people possessed. The kind of courage and tenacity they’ve had – to rebuild their lives despite everything being taken away from them. And just like that, I fell in love with the sheer spirit that ran through Kashmiri blood. We weren’t lost – we were simply paving another path for ourselves, overcoming obstacles and moving forward like never before. Eventually, it also dawned on me that the Kashmir my grandparents spoke so lovingly of was the one inhabited by these very people – ones with unparalleled resolve and strength – and it was the people of Kashmir they missed more than anything. 

In one of her poems,  Rupi Kaur stated that she was “the product of all the ancestors getting together, and deciding these stories need to be told.” Perhaps, I am also meant to tell this story. One about the indomitable nature of my people, one that I am still in awe of. 

Maybe one day the grey skies in the Valley will finally clear, and we’ll have a chance to go back home. Or maybe we won’t. But all I know is that the next time someone asks me about my ethnicity, I won’t shy away from telling it like it is.

After all, I’m Kashmiri. 

Movie Reviews Movies Pop Culture

Netflix’s “The Half Of It” finally puts a queer Chinese girl in the spotlight

We’ve all seen the trope. A shy nerd pretends to be a more popular person and writes to their love interest. A love triangle ensues, the nerd is torn between the secrecy and their feelings but some drama happens, truth is revealed and in the end, the nerd gets the girl (or guy). I’ve read this in countless books, seen this play out in movies and TV – the latest one to try – and fail, to be honest – was Sierra Burgess is a Loser. But the new Netflix original The Half of It takes the trope by the horns and subverts it into something else entirely. What used to be a cliche teen rom-com trope is rejuvenated in this heartwarming story about love and friendship that left me crying all over my screen in the middle of the night.

Director Alice Wu‘s The Half Of It begins with a prologue about soulmates, about finding your other half. We are introduced to Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a Chinese girl who lives in a house above a train station in a small town called Squahamish with her father. Ellie writes papers for her classmates for extra money, and when Paul Munsky – a rather oblivious yet kindhearted jock played by Daniel Diemer – enlists her help to write love letters to his crush Aster (Alexxis Lemire), Ellie finds both love and friendship in the people she least expected and stands to lose it all as things get slowly out of her control.

I am usually not a fan of the aforementioned trope. There’s so much secrecy, a little bit of catfishing and so many messy and hurt feelings that make me a little uncomfortable. But Alice Wu’s movie is so sensitive to the characters’ feelings that it never makes you feel that Aster is being blindsided. Leah Lewis plays Ellie with such vulnerability and transparency that the naked emotions and yearning on her face hit me like a thunderbolt every single time. I fell in love with Aster as Ellie did and understood every single of her actions, however desperate they might look on the outside.

The movie is a beautiful tale of coming out and coming of age, but in the heart of it all is a heartwarming friendship. The trailer mentions that not every love story is a romance, and I get it after watching the pure and wholesome friendship that blossoms between Paul and Ellie. Lesbian/Himbo friendship goals. I was ready to dislike or even ignore Paul, but was not prepared to love him as much as I did. If you loved duos like Robin/Steve (Stranger Things) and Sydney/Stanley (I’m not okay with this), Paul and Ellie will maneuver their way into your heart. These flawed and soft souls find a sweet friendship in each other that pushes them to grow, to be bold and to understand what they really want from their lives. I haven’t realized how much I’ve wanted such a platonic relationship where both characters exist on the same page and love each other without condition.

But that doesn’t mean that the romance is sidelined. Ellie slowly blossoms into her feelings even when it’s apparent that the secrecy is taking a toll on her. The back and forth between Ellie (in the guise of Paul) and Aster consists of references of Wim Wenders, bold paintings and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit philosophy. The kind of conversation that would have made me roll my eyes in a John Green book actually works between these two girls of color whose dreams and ideas are too big for the small town that surrounds them. These two have such a sweet chemistry, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but there was an innocent yet adorably tense scene that had me grinning like a fool,

I said I cried, but the movie isn’t a melancholic musing of yearning and repressed sexuality. There are so many scenes where I laughed out loud – even the tensest moments often lend a little leeway for a smile. Alice Wu lingers on the happy moments, the ridiculous scenes and painful awkwardness, because that’s part and parcel of teen life. But she doesn’t shy away from small-town racism, the microaggressions, the lost dreams of Ellie’s father (who has a PhD from China but has resorted to be a train station operator because he doesn’t have a good command of English), the blissful privilege in which most of Ellie’s classmates live and the underlying thread of religion that hangs over the entire movie. But they never overpower Ellie’s personal journey, because ultimately The Half Of It doesn’t have to establish Ellie’s pain for us to root for her. From the first moment we meet her, we are already her cheerleaders, just as Paul becomes once he befriends her.

In the midst of so many run of the mill teen movies that say the same old story of white middle class urban “struggles” and angst, The Half Of It is so special and important. The story is so simple and understated yet the emotions it induces are anything but. Alice Wu made me cry and laugh and cry again, and I can guarantee that by the end of the movie, these characters will become and dear and near to your heart, and saying goodbye to them made me feel like I have lost something, lost the kind of sweet love that I was experiencing along with Ellie.

TV Shows Pop Culture

“Never Have I Ever” on Netflix is an amazing representation of coming of age as an Indian American

We all know how hard it is to be a teen.

After classic John Hughes movies and Disney Channel original shows, it has been established that teenage angst and adolescent awkwardness would always be a sweet spot for viewers of all ages. But Netflix is giving the teenage experience a new spin these days. With movies like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Beforeand shows like On My Block, the streaming platform has been giving us a peek into the experience of growing up as a minority in contemporary America, and Mindy Kaling’s newest comedy teen show Never Have I Ever has officially joined the ranks.

Never Have I Ever follows Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), a first-generation Indian American teen and her plan to finally get a boyfriend in her sophomore year of high school. Sounds like an easy plan, right? But throw in some personal trauma, her exploration of her identity as an Indian American, a seemingly fruitless crush, a petty high school rivalry and some wonderful but sometimes clueless best friends, Devi’s plan might backfire so so bad, but it provides for a wholesome story about teenage angst, first love, beautiful friendships and family relationships.

[Image Description: Three girls sit at a table hugging each other, smiling, with their eyes closed] Via Netflix
[Image Description: Three girls sit at a table hugging each other, smiling, with their eyes closed] Via Netflix
Mindy Kaling‘s image as an actress often makes people forget what a good writer she is. The show, created by Kaling and Lang Fisher is so snappy, the comedy is so fresh and I burned through the 10 episode series so fast. I’ve not had this much fun while watching a show in recent times. But then I also realized why, the show made me genuinely happy, a strange intrinsic joy in looking at this Tamil, Indian girl walk around and do normal things and have normal teenage problems. Those of us who grew up in the various countries of the vast South Asian community and diaspora are often connected by experience if not our exact identity, and there’s something so beautiful about a show that reminds me both of how similar and different I am to this 15-year-old (or I was, thinking back to 15-years-old me growing up in Sri Lanka).

Devi is a delight to watch. She’s angry and rude at times, but also kind and understanding. She’s ridiculously funny – especially when she tries to walk in heels in an attempt to reinvent herself – and the show isn’t afraid to poke fun at its protagonist… but never at the cost of her identity. It shouldn’t be a pleasant surprise to me, but you know how easy it would have been to have a bunch of racist high school bullies make her life hard and center all the drama around them and call it a day?

In the first episode of the show, Devi confronts her arch-nemesis Ben about how he calls her and her best friends Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez) and Eleanor (Ramona Young) “the U.N.”, a term that Devi calls racist. Ben looks surprised – not defensive, makes a lot of difference – and reveals that the UN doesn’t denote United Nations (as Devi assumes) but rather “Unfuckable Nerds.” Now an insult is an insult, and Ben is still horrible, but there is a twisted relief in knowing that the character is being mean, but not racist. The show understands the nuances on microaggressions, but doesn’t dwell on it for long. Devi’s identity is an integral part of her journey, but it isn’t the axis that the plot or tension revolves around.

[Image Description: Three women, wearing saris are looking at each other, smiling] Via Netflix
[Image Description: Three women, wearing saris are looking at each other, smiling] Via Netflix
While Devi’s romantic and high school life looms around in the background, in the crux of the show is her relationship with her mother. Once again, it would have been easy to portray Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) as insensitive or semi antagonistic, but instead, we get a grieving wife and mother who is trying to keep her family intact after her husband’s untimely demise. There’s a desperation to her character, whether it be in attempting to be faithful to her culture or trying to instill the values in Devi, but even when Devi retaliates, the show never writes off Nalini as forceful in her attempts. The mother and daughter often misunderstand each other, but there’s so much love, so much shared pain that eventually bonds the duo no matter their differences.

The rest of the cast is so diverse, wonderfully fleshed out, and equally delightful. Eleanor and Fabi – Devi’s best friends – are so loyal and supportive yet aren’t afraid to call on her bullshit when she deserves it. Kamala (Richa Moorjani), Devi’s PhD student cousin from India, has her own thread of love and marriage going on in the backdrop and while I have my qualms with western media portrayals of South Asian arranged marriages, the way Kamala’s story was juxtaposed with Devi’s own love drama was so brilliant and illuminating.

The show isn’t perfect, it does fall into some teen rom-com cliches – but why not? Why not have a perfectly cliche and fun rom-com with an Indian lead? – and it might not be relatable to every Indian or South Asian, but I think after years of waiting to watch a mainstream show or movie where a South Asian’s teen’s highs and lows are so normalized, Never Have I Ever is not just a breath of fresh air, it’s also such an important step.

The South Asian community is so vast and so diverse, we are never all going to relate to one another in the exact same way, and for now, I am filled with joy and satisfaction after witnessing a very specific and individual story of a Indian American teen growing up in California suburb, and hoping that Devi’s story paves the path for many many more.

Health Care Culture Love Wellness Life

We need to talk about braces in American culture

I had braces for all four years of high school and every time I tell that to one of my peers, they meet me with the same pitiful look that most of my high school crushes also met me with. Braces are constantly portrayed in popular media as something for the nerdy kid. The awkward kid. The kid who hasn’t grown fully into themselves yet. 

But I, like so many others, thought the stigma and teasing would be worth it in the end. I thought, “it’s ok, I can be that kid in high school and I’ll glow up for college” (I did, by the way). But the reason I got braces, like so many American children, was because my smile wasn’t perfect. And I wasn’t alone, according to the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), around four million Americans are wearing braces today. That number roughly doubled in the U.S. between 1982 and 2008. Here’s why:

Until relatively recently, the number one concern for dentists was tooth decay. Tooth straightening was secondary. But in modern America, tooth decay is uncommon, especially for those who have dental care access. So the now number one concern is cosmetic: alignment.

Historically, there have not been a lot of options for improving the aesthetics of your teeth. Until the 1900s, extraction, dentures or filing teeth down to create an illusion of alignment were the only way to create a straight smile. 

After World War II, this curriculum was adopted by graduate programs across the country, allowing for the mainstream adoption of orthodontics as a ‘necessary’ medical procedure. In fact, now, cosmetic dentistry represents the largest nonsurgical beauty industry after makeup. This includes orthodontia, and teeth-whitening business, which gained its traction in the 1990s.

The ‘necessity’ of braces might come from the fact that straight teeth are perceived as more attractive.  NYMag examined studies that regularly claim that life is “really hard” for people with imperfect teeth. One cited from 2012 said that 38 percent of Americans rule out a second date with someone with misaligned teeth and people with straight teeth are 38 percent more likely to be perceived as smart. Which is, to be honest, super weird, because that’s simply not how teeth are naturally.

The bottom line is that, now, braces are the go-to option to make you the version of yourself that society wants. And when that version costs anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, we have to understand that societal beauty is also related to wealth and economic privilege. You can track the economic development of middle-class America with the increase in spending on orthodontia.

But what about the kids that never had braces? I personally know plenty of them. My roommate never had braces and her teeth are near perfect with one charming crooked incisor that I feel gives her smile that much more character. And another friend is 21 and just got braces for the first time. Well, he has Invisalign, to be specific, but you get the point.

Adult braces are emerging in popularity. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, about one million adults sought treatment from orthodontists in the U.S. and Canada in 2012. By 2014, that number increased to 1.4 million. President of the AAO Morris N. Poole claimed: “data shows that adults report improvements in their professional and personal lives after completing orthodontic treatments.” Some reports claim that this increase might be associated with the development of Invisalign, which corrects your teeth while being barely noticeable. This presents a dilemma for me, because, while I am proud to say more members of the American public are able to access orthodontia, I find it interesting that this is such a priority. It isn’t in other countries (I’m looking at you, United Kingdom). And maybe if we question this priority, we can start to be more aware.

When I look at characters like Ali Wong’s Sasha Tran in “Always Be My Maybe” and think about the images of power and privilege that braces stand for, I can’t help but think deeper. I think the reason we see Sasha with braces is that the writers want you to know where she comes from. The braces somehow symbolize to the audience that, yes, she is not quite societally beautiful. But she will be. And then I think, when I was in high school, is that what people thought of me? And did the braces really do that much to change whether I am beautiful or not?

The truth is that kids with braces are not the trivial representation we get through pop culture media. To some extent, braces are akin to the “rite of passage” that Dr. Punwani says they are but they also represent so much more: privilege, status, time and priorities. The popularity of braces, despite the cost, is representative of strangely skewed priorities in this country. And I think it’s time to recognize that.

Gender & Identity Books Life

Author Tamora Pierce was the hero I didn’t know I needed

When I was a kid I was obsessed with reading. Nothing was as interesting opening the pages of a book and becoming someone else. I could hear thoughts, talk to birds or sword fight a wizard. Whatever I wanted. It was amazing. 

I used to go to my elementary school’s library every other day and hand in my book and ask for the next one. My mother quickly learned that I burned through books just about as fast as I would burn through her wallet at a candy store. If she bought me a new book every time I finished one, we would be poor. I become great friends with the librarian. She taught me how to find what I was looking for on the shelves and how each was categorized. I remember getting a thin book handed to me while the librarian said, “you’ll like this one.”

I did. I liked it a lot.

That book was Alanna: The First Adventure and I finished it by the next morning. I then read through the entire The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. I was spellbound by her world and her stories but most of all by her characters.

Alanna was not only someone I wanted to be, but someone I already saw myself in. Strong-willed and fierce, she defied gender roles and went against the status quo. But she wasn’t one dimensional. She cared about the weak and she wanted to be loved. I hadn’t read about anyone like her.

Tamora started writing young. Like me, she was obsessed with stories and books. She grew up moving from place to place due to her poor family’s unstable situation with her siblings, one of which she based her character of Alanna. She forgot about writing for a while and went to the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship for psychology. She worked summers at Women’s Centers and taught a history class on witchcraft at the Free Women’s University. She started writing stories again in her third year at University, it was only a couple years later she started sending out her manuscript for The Song of the Lioness.

Alanna clearly reflects Tamora’s upbringing. A no-name girl taking more than what she was given and holding on tight seems to be a theme in nearly all Tamora’s books but especially in Alanna. Tamora’s interest in both women’s studies and the arts shine through her characters.

Without knowing it at the time, her books were my first introduction to feminism. I read a lot of books as a kid but none stuck in my mind or had as deep an impact on who I am as Tamora Pierce’s did. They had a captivating story that kept me hooked for all four books and then for two series I immediately read after that were set in the same universe. They had characters that seemed to grow with me. That I could relate to as well as aspire to be. They were books that made a scrawny girl feel like she could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that Tamora Pierce is a hero, for me and for thousands of other girls and women.

Culture Life

I grew up shy and afraid. This is how I became confident.

As someone with a very big family, I grew up with a collection of nicknames.

“Erry-Scary” and “Twiggy” were the two that stuck, though all of these nicknames alluded to the fact that I was a very small child. I was small not, only in stature, but in temperament as well. I was (and still am) very shy.

The term “shy” is defined as being nervous or timid in the company of other people. This definition makes sense because that’s exactly what happens to me in new social situations. I am overwhelmed and my prefrontal cortex seems to abandon me in new relationships, taking my confidence and ability to speak with it! I typically slip into the background and quietly observe. I become quite small.

My shyness is something I’ve grappled with for most of my life, not only because it makes navigating life somewhat challenging but because I am constantly labeled it. Shyness is not a new concept and I can confidently say that everyone has experienced it at some point in their lives. It really is normal.

But, why then, are we viewed as being less capable or “less than” when compared to those who either don’t get shy or are simply better at hiding it?

This label made high school an infuriating experience for me. I attended a small private school in South Africa. Like so many others, my school seemed to hold loudness and confidence at the top of their criteria for what supposedly makes a good leader. Leadership was recognized with titles like captain, head of house or a prefect. High school felt a bit like a race in this way – competing to be the best, the fastest, the most charismatic. As an overachieving perfectionist, I nothing more than to be one of those three things. But the reality was that those positions had already been filled within the first month of school, the race merely a show to make it look fair. 

By the time I was in my final year, I had begrudgingly accepted that I had been placed in a box labeled “shy.”

Unfortunately, this box meant that I supposedly didn’t have what it took to lead and I was never made captain or a prefect.

Funnily enough, though, I was made head of house (much to everyone’s surprise). Head of house was the “ugly stepsister” of leadership roles. Our job was to create spirit and organize inter-house events. It was a big responsibility but it wasn’t announced in an assembly like the others. A few of us were nominated by our peers and the leaders were chosen by a show of hands.

Prior to this, I had been flirting with a very cute boy in the year below me. This particular boy belonged to the box labeled “cheeky and confident” and when he put up his hand to vote for me, everyone seemed to follow. Before I knew it, it was announced that I was head of house.

My best friend and I found this to be completely hilarious.

I had rigged the system without any effort at all. What at first seemed like a bit of a joke, turned out to be something I absolutely loved. I was never going to be the girl who stood in front of 100 children screaming, “we’ve got spirit yes we do!”

But I was the girl that managed to get every kid to their sports event on time. I was the girl who organized and made hundreds of costumes and float decorations. I was the girl that people felt safe coming to when they were uncomfortable or uneasy. I was a good leader…much to my surprise!

Looking back, this shouldn’t have been such a shock to me.

I like being in control and helping others achieve something and I have always been this way. But in high school, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t deserve that position or that “Erry-Scary” wasn’t and wouldn’t be enough. I had internalized all of the negative connotations that had come to be associated with my timid nature.

We need to challenge the assumptions we make about shy people; those who are labeled and categorized as quiet and “less than” because we are so much more. We are the ones who listen and who watch – we take in all the nuances.

It’s high time we began embracing these qualities in people instead of forcing them into boxes we are clearly too big for.

Gift Guides Books Pop Culture

8 necessary books for anyone going through a big life change

‘Change’ is a loaded word for many of us. My own relationship with change has always been to long for it in advance of it happening, to fight it when it does, and to embrace it only right before the cycle begins all over again.

But one thing that always makes change a little more bearable is the knowledge that, whatever the type of change you’re going through, someone somewhere has probably written a book about it.

So what better time than spring – the Official Season of Fresh Starts – to bring you a list of the very best books about change? From internal growth – coming-of-age, changing relationship dynamics, and renewed mindsets – to external shifts, like socio-political upheaval, new homes and entering uncharted territory, these books cover all the bases. They remind us that change is essential to growth, and that perspective is everything.

1. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

A copy of 'Born Confused' lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman's eyes with a question mark at the centre of her forehead.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Born Confused’ lies on a purple rug. The cover features a woman’s eyes with a question mark at the center of her forehead.] Via Iman Saleem.
Dimple Rohitbhai Lala is on many cusps – between cultural tradition and her own volition, school, and college, a Dimple-approved old boy and a parent-approved new one. While that fuzzy area between leaving school and starting college seems a very specific kind of change, there are a number of lessons Dimple learns that are pretty universal. Namely that friendships must grow as people do, that to change your values is not to accept defeat, and that the chaos of change does not necessarily end in calm, collected resolution – often it just settles into slightly more manageable chaos.

2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Louis de Bernières's novel 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author's books and a pair of glasses.
[Image description: Louis de Bernières’s novel ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’, featuring a blue cover with various symbols from the book on it, lies on a grey blanket alongside another one of the author’s books and a pair of glasses.] Via A Model Recommends.
Set in 1941 on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Greco-Italian war, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is concerned with many different types of changes. With a multi-character narrative that goes back and forth across time and place, the horrors of war being contrasted with everyday life in Cephalonia serves as a gripping background to a number of personal and interpersonal dramas. Italian Antonio Corelli is infatuated with Pelagia, Pelagia is engaged to Mandras, Carlo is struggling with his homosexuality and the death of his beloved. This epic novel is about how war can change how and whom we love, and how these loves can create and reshape our histories. 

3. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

The spine of the novel 'Brooklyn' stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.
[Image description: The spine of the novel ‘Brooklyn’ stands out among a pile of books, the rest of which are piled with their spines facing the opposite direction.] Via Iman Saleem.
Brooklyn captures the piercing pain of homesickness and feeling very small in a big world with stark honesty. Eilis Lacey emigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s, alone and not knowing what awaits her. As soon as Eilis conquers her fear of the unknown and settles into her new life, however, she gets pulled right back into her old one. Brooklyn is about choices and serves as a reminder that while the past may be out of your hands, the future is yours to build.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.
[Image description: A person wearing a white sweater holds up the Italian copy of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ against a wall covered in different shades of dusky pink.] Via The Eat Culture.
We can’t ever talk about fresh starts without mentioning Bridget Jones, queen of drastic self-improvement tactics and overambitious New Year’s resolutions. Bridget, 30-something, works in publishing, lives in London, would like to stop smoking and dating losers, is so relatable because her life, much like anyone’s, rarely ever goes according to plan. Witnessing Bridget deal with every curveball – sometimes gracefully, sometimes not – feels like being seen, flaws and all.

5. The Baghdad Clock by Shahad Al Rawi

A hand holds up a copy of 'The Baghdad Clock' against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.
[Image description: A hand holds up a copy of ‘The Baghdad Clock’ against a white curtain as patches of sunlight hit the book. The cover is shades of blue and features a young girl leaping over a puddle.] Via Iman Saleem.
In 1991 in Baghdad, a young girl and her best friend meet for the first time in an air raid shelter during the first Gulf War. From then on, they share everything with each other – dreams, disappointments, fears, and firsts. In the background of the girls’ lives are a close-knit community and a city whose nooks and crannies they know like the backs of their hands, both slowly disappearing as a result of the war. Through a child’s perspective and using elements of magical realism, Al Rawi explores her protagonist’s internal turbulence at a time in which uncertainty is a way of life and stability a myth. 

6. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

The fourth book in the 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.
[Image description: The fourth book in the ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ series lies on a pair of blue jeans. The cover is a pair of blue jeans against a yellow backdrop.] Via Iman Saleem.
This book will have more of an impact if you’ve read the 3 preceding books in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, but it still does great all by itself. Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are off on their final summer apart before they go away to college and begin spending the rest of their years apart as well. Being apart from your friends is difficult because it means coming to terms with what that distance may or may not change. The sisterhood teaches us to have faith in the friendships we hold closest to our hearts and to trust that they can endure the scariest thing of all: the unknown.

7. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The cover for Sandra Cisneros's 'The House on Mango Street', which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.
[Image description: The cover for Sandra Cisneros’s ‘The House on Mango Street’, which depicts a red building on a turquoise background.] Via Bagina.
Cisneros’s graphic novel is told in a series of vignettes through the voice of Esperanza Cordera, a young girl growing up in Chicago’s Hispanic quarter. Readers learn all about Esperanza’s community and culture through the eyes of a child, which are much clearer than those of adults. Central to Mango Street is an overwhelming sense of community and loyalty, and Esperanza’s experiences of growing up, finding her purpose, awakening her sense of independence and agency, are all intrinsically tied to the eponymous Mango Street and all its inhabitants. 

8. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A copy of 'Persepolis' - featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy - lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.
[Image description: A copy of ‘Persepolis’ – featuring a red cover with a young girl wearing a dark headscarf and looking unhappy – lies on a wooden surface by a vase of flowers.] Via Persistiny.
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel blends personal and public histories into one, each one shaping and sustaining the other. In her striking, candid illustrations Satrapi remembers her childhood in Iran, her move to Europe and eventual return back to Iran. Born to politically active Marxist parents and growing up during the Iranian Revolution, Satrapi’s own life is intertwined with an extremely volatile phase of her country’s history. Satrapi endures many drastic changes – geographical, political, personal – yet remains intrinsically unchanged.

Change can be intimidating, daunting, and downright scary. Let these books help you on your way to not only dealing with change but conquering it as well.

Check these books – and more – on our brand new The Tempest bookshop supporting local bookstores!


Music inspired my love of language, and it can for you too

I never thought English would turn into a lifelong love until I heard the right music.

When I was 11, I hated English. It was my least favorite subject at school after so-called “handicraft,” where boys learned how to handle hammers and screwdrivers, and girls were taught sewing and cooking.

I could not see any difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect tenses. I could not figure out when to use articles and why there were so many irregular verbs that defied all grammar rules. My Mum, who was a doctor and had never been to any English-speaking country, sincerely tried to help by providing me with endless exercises to do at home, but nothing changed. As a last resort, my parents decided to enroll me in an English course, hoping that one day I would go to the UK and impress Londoners with my brilliant linguistic skills.

In the beginning, all of us were quite skeptical about my language-learning abilities. Perhaps, my parents were hoping I would follow their path and become a doctor, all the more so as my favorite book at home was a 3-volume  covering Human anatomy. But good teachers and friendly environments work wonders, so I exceeded their expectations. No tenses gave me shivers any more. No irregular verbs appeared in my nightmares. I am still having issues using articles (since there are none in my native language of Russian), but there is always room for perfection!

Twenty years down the line, I’m working as a translator. I can speak four languages with two more underway.  I am in love with each and every language, and first of all, my own – since it is impossible to be a translator without a proper knowledge of your native language. Grammar rules are not a boring routine for me, but rather a challenge to my intellectual abilities. Each language is like an unexplored land I need to map out. Although I have conquered many peaks, crossed rivers and trodden paths on my map, this land will never be fully explored or discovered, and this is why it is so fascinating.

When I was 14, I developed a passion for Turkish music thanks to a handsome Turkish singer Tarkan, whose songs became popular outside of his country. I was eager to know what his songs were about, which doesn’t seem to be a valid reason for learning any language, but that’s what it was. At that time the only study book I could find in my city of Novosibirsk was a 2-volume edition written by someone who obviously didn’t expect that a teenager would ever read it. Judging by the language he used, it seems like he addressed academicians, but that didn’t intimidate me. Turkish turned out to be a relatively easy language, both in terms of pronunciation and grammar, so after a year I could already keep some conversations. Needless to say that I was diligent enough to finally translate the songs I was so in love with, but I felt like a kid who has just found out that Santa doesn’t exist. Many songs seemed to be a Turkish version of “Oops I did it again”…I guess I expected something more meaningful and wise from the descendants of Ottoman emperors, but it was too late to step back.

My third foreign language was French, which I had to study at the university.  By that time, I had started to see language learning as an adventure…you know, like some people get excited about solving math problems and find pleasure in tackling the difficult parts. Had I not been adventurous enough, weird reading rules (where half of the letters is not pronounced) and complicated grammar would have scared me away. But even that attitude was not enough to take me to another level of language acquisition. I needed something to motivate me, to make me push the boundaries and explore further. And once again, it turned out to be related to music. One year after I started learning French, I came across the Notre-Dame de Paris musical. When the shabbily-dressed poet Gringoire (aka Bruno Pelletier, the Golden Voice of Quebec) opened his mouth and started to sing, my breath was taken away. “With such a voice, one can’t be singing about something banal!” – I thought. Unlike Tarkan, that guy lived up to my expectations. As a result, I enriched my vocabulary, got to know more about Quebec and I still enjoy every written or spoken word of this elegant language same as before.

My linguistic journey is far from being over. I learned some German in school and grew to see a certain unique beauty in its snappy phonetics and even the words that might take you a few minutes to read. I learned to read and to write in Arabic; I wish I could dedicate more time to this complicated yet beautiful language. I want to learn Gaelic – firstly, because it is of Celtic origin and has nothing in common with other languages I know (that’s what you call a challenge!) and secondly because I’ve been to Scotland and left a piece of my heart in this land of heather and misty mountains. Learning gaelic would be like paying tribute to the country where I was so happy. It doesn’t really matter why you want to learn a language, as long as you enjoy the process, because every language makes you a discoverer in a new world where people speak, think and act differently. And only those who’ve been there know what the others are missing out on.