Summary: Karthik Delivers
In Karthik Delivers, 14-year-old Karthik Raghavan is spending his last summer of middle school delivering groceries for his father’s Indian grocery store. When he’s not playing delivery boy, he’s hanging out with his best friends and sneaking glances at his crush whenever he runs into her. It’s the early 2000s in Boston, Massachusetts, and the recession is causing store closures. Karthik’s father’s store becomes at greater risk of closure when Juhi’s family opens an Indian restaurant (also selling pre-packaged ready-to-cook items). But the most interesting part of Karthik’s summer? A university student wants him to act as Leonard Bernstein in her play. Can Karthik deliver?
First off, this is firmly in upper middle grade territory, which I loved.
Brief rant: I read an ignorant (forgive me, but it’s annoying when people who don’t understand how kid lit works try to make sweeping generalizations) review about how this book isn’t for middle schoolers because the protagonist is 14. That’s false. I remember that these were the kinds of books I loved when I was 12-15 years old. Many middle grade books target kids in that sweet 9-12 range, but older tweens who aren’t ready for young adult literature are grossly under-served, so I’m glad books like this exist.
Karthik is sweet and sensitive and has a massive crush on Juhi. I loved their narrative arc because sometimes the people you crush on have their own issues and insecurities (especially if they’re teens) and may take a while to figure themselves out. That happens with Juhi who initially is rolling with a crowd that mocks Karthik and his friends.
I also loved the store scenes and this book will hit home very nicely for kids who’ve had a background like Karthik’s. His father left a tech job to start a store — much like the dad in Respicio’s How to Win a Slime War. His mother always wanted to be a doctor but never got to, so she’s pushing Karthik to develop an interest in medicine, even though the sight of blood makes him queasy. The author delves into all of these themes with plenty of insight and sensitivity.
Finally, for Karthik’s play, he does a lot of work to believe in himself and learns a ton from Leonard Bernstein’s life. I didn’t love the musical theater aspect all the time because I much preferred reading about Karthik’s life, relationships with store patrons, and with his parents and sister. But some readers might love the latter more.
Overall: Karthik Delivers
Karthik Delivers is a unique, refreshing look at a family dealing with financial struggles and a young teen discovering his passions. This is peak upper middle grade literature that highlights sweet male friendships, a budding crush (with hand-holding at the end!), academic pressures in immigrant families, and a growing love for acting and the arts. Older middle schoolers (7th grade and up) will love this one, especially if they aren’t afraid of longer books.