I am an adult author who has also crossed over into young adult; a fiction writer who frequently crosses over into nonfiction; and a writer who loves to create worlds that capture these cultural complexities.
My newest book, Tell Us We’re Home, a young adult novel, was published in May, 2010, from Atheneum/Simon and Schuster. It’s about three immigrant girls—all daughters of maids and nannies in the fictional suburb of Meadowbrook, New Jersey. I like to think of this book as a girl’s friendship novel turned on it on its head, showing an often times invisible perspective. Tell Us We’re Home is also about how to find a sense of home when you’re an outsider in a new town, a new country, and yet it’s your mother making these other kids’ lives easier.
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That same fall, Clarion-Houghton Mifflin released another book, co-authored with my husband, historian Marc Aronson, Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom & Science which was a Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist. This book began several years ago, when we were sitting on a stone patio in Jerusalem, and my husband’s cousin told us a fantastic tale of a relative whose personal history was intertwined with the story of beet sugar. I too had sugar in my family background, since my great-grandparents left India in the 19th century to work the sugar plantations of the West Indies. We were amazed that each of us, with ancestors from different parts of the world, was touched by this one substance. It then hit us that so many lives have been changed, transformed, and brutalized by this one ingredient. And so we went on the trail of history to find out more.
The making of this book is also a story, one that also includes many other voices. For two summers, as we were developing the material for this book, we gave a seminar for New York City school teachers at New York University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. Their input was invaluable as we honed our ideas and presentation. We also created another enhancement to the book: a music website that will feature music from ‘sugar culture’—all the songs and rhythms that grew out of this experience in places such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Trinidad. Ben Lapidus, an ethno-musicologist at John Jay College, is collaborating with us on this exciting project. To learn more, visit the website www.sugarchangedtheworld.com.