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A Group of One

by Rachna Gilmore

Fifteen-year-old Tara Mehta considers herself 100% Canadian and doesn’t want to be labelled by her skin colour or her Indian heritage. But when her paternal grandmother, Naniji, comes to Canada for a visit, Tara is forced to take a new look at what it means to be Canadian. Naniji can’t understand why Tara and her sisters don’t speak Hindi and she’s especially annoyed that they don’t know their own family history; Naniji joined Gandhi’s Quit India campaign when she was 14 and is one of the heroes of the Indian independence movement. When Tara decides to share Naniji’s experiences with her history class, she discovers she has to fight her own kind of revolutionary war.
Rachna Gilmore is best known as a writer of picture books including her Governor General’s Award-winning A Screaming Kind of Day and the novel Mina’s Spring of Colours. A Group of One is a complex and compelling novel that deftly tackles a range of difficult issues especially relevant in today’s multicultural world. What is most rewarding is that this novel looks beyond racial boundaries. Tara’s struggle to define herself also means taking a second look at her cultural and historical heritage, something that Gilmore suggests even “regular old Canadians” need to do. But the issues here are also framed within a thoughtful, poignant family drama that plays just as important a part as does the discussion of the meaning of being Canadian. Where the novel falters, albeit briefly, is in its too-obvious tidying up of different strands at the conclusion, but Gilmore doesn’t fall victim to the happily-ever-after syndrome. A Group of One ends on a positive note but with plenty of space for young readers to draw conclusions of their own.