First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover
by Mitali Perkins
(Dutton Children’s Books, 2007)
Sameera, known as Sparrow, is the adopted daughter of diplomatic parents. She has lived all over the world but now she is headed back to America because her father is running for president. However, Sameera’s Pakistani origins are seen as a bit of a headache for her father’s entourage, who are determined to accentuate her American-ness, with the result that she becomes a cardboard cut-out of herself, a simpering pawn for the media – some of whom nevertheless continue to use her origins as food for negative publicity. It’s not all bad though: the glamorous makeover does have its plus points.
Contrasts abound: most obviously between the public persona of “Sammy”, Sameera’s virtual personality, whose Sammysez.com blog is written by a campaign publicity consultant (a thirty-something man…), and her own, private myspace.com site, where she is able to continue to be herself. The intention is that Sparrow will, as usual, spend most of the summer at her grand-parents’ dairy farm but media intrusion, as well as an honestly acknowledged awareness that she wishes the world to remember that her parents have a daughter, mean that she rejoins them in Washington DC and takes to the campaign trail. Once there, she links up with the University’s South Asian Republican Students’ Association, where she finds friendship, support and bhangradancing, not to mention the hint of romance.
The dynamics of relationships in Sparrow’s extended family and who is being over-protective of whom add to the depth of the writing and the plot itself – unbeknownst to her parents, Sparrow resorts to wearing her salwar Kameez outfit and her father’s winter overcoat as a burka to get around D.C. without being hounded by the media – and in the process learns something about diverse attitudes to colored skin and foreign clothes and accents. By the end, Sameera’s honest directness win through. She is able to prove that she can more than cope with the publicity and indeed her own sparrow blog proves to be much more influential than the official Sammysez.com.
Mitali Perkins has also taken the book into another dimension: Sparrow does actually have her own blog, which like the book, bubbles and fizzes. This really is a great read – fun and thought-provoking at the same time.