17 Black Hairs: KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE

Lynn: OMG—those middle school years! So much change and heartache, and the smallest of things can cause such anguish. Individual circumstances may differ, but exquisitely painful emotions are the same.

Kristi Wientge brings a welcome new voice to the middle-school experience in her funny debut novel, Karma Khullar’s Mustache (2017). As though starting sixth grade wasn’t enough, Karma is dealing with a deluge of changes. Her dad has lost his job, her mom is working so much that Karma rarely sees her, and her long-time best friend has been co-opted by a new mean girl working swiftly to cut off Karma from her friend. Then, there is the sudden manifestation of 17 black hairs on Karma’s upper lip. Nothing Karma tries seems to get rid of the hair. Then a boy from her class notices and starts to tease her. Before long, a gesture and the words “Stache Attack” are all over the school. At the speed of light, Karma finds herself alone, bullied and miserable.

Karma Khullar's Mustache

Wientge gets Karma’s bewildered loneliness perfectly. One minute Karma is giggling with her BFF and the next sitting alone and miserable at lunch. There isn’t a reader who won’t ache for Karma. By crafting Karma as mixed-race with a Sikh father and a white, Methodist mother, Wientge also adds a unique flavor to a favorite middle-school topic. Karma’s exploration of her Sikh religion intrigues as she seeks to understand the concept of karma that she suspects might help her solve her problems. There is a laugh-out-loud thread based on the traditional ethnic lunches Karma’s father packs for her that kids of all ethnicities can relate to.

This funny yet very tender exploration of shifting friendships, bullying, self-esteem, growing up, and family relationships is at once familiar and brand new. Readers may not carry sardine masala in a tiffin for lunch, but they’ll feel Karma’s unhappiness and cheer for her resilient spirit.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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