May Book of the Month: “On the Outside Looking Indian” by Rupinder Gill

"On the Outside Looking Indian" by Rupinder Gill. 288 pages. Riverhead Trade. May 1, 2012. ISBN: 1594485771. List price: $15.

Jeez. Being a brown kid growing up in the West is tough stuff. In addition to navigating two cultures, you have to maneuver your way around such obstacles as unmitigated follicular activity and an unjustifiably pathetic social life. Sure, growing up different is difficult but looking back on that time as an adult and laughing isn’t–nor should it be.

In “On the Outside Looking Indian” Indian-Canadian writer Rupinder Gill relates the tale of her third-life crisis, without going so far as to call it that. Instead, Gill describes the promise she made herself as a 30-year-old to experience the childhood she didn’t have growing up. This involves plenty of soul-searching, a list of resolutions (involving such items as going to Disney World and learning to swim) and many, many stories of life in suburban Canada with four siblings.

Gill’s telling of her relationships with friends, family, her career and herself is laugh-inducing and reminiscent of another of our favorite writers in many ways. Her commitment to completing her goals is admirable, and her self-deprecation in the face of failure is something anyone can relate to. Strangely, Gill seems to attribute her subpar childhood (which consisted of hours of TV rather than tennis lessons–not an awful fate, if you ask me) to her parents’ Indianness, not their financial situation. She does seem to realize that finances precluded some of her childhood dreams, such as a trip to Disney World, which would not have been possible for seven people on two factory workers’ salaries. However, that seems like it would be true for any poor family, not just an Indian one.

Regardless, the funny parts of being Indian, from marriage pressure right down to just having too much hair, are elevated to hilarious by Gill’s comedic wording and timing. Her story is inspirational and aspirational since, let’s face it, not all of us have the security or the guts to quit our day jobs and follow our dreams, even for a short time.

Though Gill clearly suffers from retroactive FOMO, the results as she tries to compensate make for a fun and quick read. This is a great summer book, especially if you, like Gill, are one of those who brings a book to the beach because she can’t swim. Who knows? Maybe after reading, you’ll be inspired to take lessons like our heroine. Just be prepared to wrestle your mass of hair into a swim cap first.

To enter to win a copy of On the Outside Looking Indian, leave a comment on this review  by Friday, June 8 at 11:59 p.m. EST. US only.

Amina Elahi is’s Managing Editor.