Not only is Karma Khullar nervous about starting middle school because her and her best friend, Sara, seem to be growing apart but she has to deal with the woes of growing up as well. Specifically the seventeen little hairs growing up out of her upper lip. To add onto all that, it isn’t enough that her home life has been flipped around with her mom working longer hours and her dad becoming a stay-at-home parent, but her school life is also off to a rocky start no thanks to Sara’s new friend.
Despite the cute cover of this book that might evoke a chuckle as it did for me, Wientge’s debut novel tackles a number of issues that middle grade, and even possible older, readers may face. Not only are physical and social woes addressed, but cultural ones as well. Maybe even more than the fact that Wientge talks about the awkwardness of body hair during puberty, I appreciated the diversity brought into the story and how that, in a school setting, could be upsetting by being a little bit different than your peers with something as simple as the lunch you might be bringing.
Which leads me to the plot of the story that I felt was really hard to read for personal reasons. The bully. While, of course, it wouldn’t be a well-rounded novel with a title like this one if the main character (and reader) didn’t learn a lesson from all the hardships but this was tough. Wientge did a great job at depicting very realistic situations and awful things that bullies can say or do to make one’s life miserable. Even if some are not active participants, “sometimes the silence hurts more than the teasing”, as she writes in Karma Khullar’s Mustache. However, it’s as people often say, that it’s not necessarily the situations you’re faced with but how you react to them that counts. Sometimes it takes awful things for others to open their eyes to the goodness that exists around them.
I don’t often read a lot of middle grade novels but this was a wonderful story about growing up, and growing apart. It is an important book to read for preteens who may feel like they don’t “belong”, when it may be that they just haven’t found the right group yet. Wientge’s novel is about acceptance – of others, and of yourself.