The Secret Keeper, Mitali Perkins latest YA novel, takes the reader into the cultural world of two sisters, Asha and Reet (short for Amrita), as their father leaves Bengal to establish a new home for the family in New York City. The story is foreign to a reader who has lived in only one culture in a way – arranged marriages, family traditions established by multitudes of generations, serious political turmoil. On the other hand, the themes of mother-daughter relationships, the importance of family, the importance of being who you are, sacrificing for your family, feeling serparate from yet loving deeply the family who you are a part of…these themes are not so foreign. Mitali spoke at a recent dinner to a group of mothers and daughters who had read her books. One daughter attending asked the question, “But aren’t all arranged marriages unhappy marriages?” Mitali, in her beautiful way, talked about how her parents (an arranged marriage) have been happily married for over 50 years, how of her many first cousins’ marriages (22!) half are marriages of self-choice and half are arranged (all happy so far), and if any cultural act is offensive to her it is the lack of opportunity for young girls and women, yet even that is changing. Then she spoke of how in Bengal, the elders are honored, never ‘farmed’ out to nursing homes or retirement communities, and in this country that is the norm. “And, you know, in any culture, all is not good and all is not bad,” said Mitali. I think reading the book is a picture of cultural difference and the universality of the human family issues. This is a good book for discussion for ages 12-16, maybe older. I know it touched me with the sacrifice that is made in the end (no spoilers) by one of the characters. Happiness is family. Sorrow is family. Family is family. Please check out Mitali’s website to the left.