Monday, September 05, 2016

Celebrating Debutantes 2016: Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel (Author Interview + Giveaway)

Hi guys! For today, I interviewed Sonia Patel, debut author and psychiatrist, about Rani Patel in Full Effect. If you are looking for diversity in the book, this book is for you. It's dark contemporary, and tackles various themes in the book. We're also giving away a copy of Rani Patel in Full Effect - open internationally!

What or who inspired you to write Rani Patel in Full Effect? The initial inspiration came from my experiences and the experiences of teens and women I’ve known or treated as a psychiatrist. I combined these experiences first into rap and poetry. Eventually I realized the rap and poems sort of told a story about a girl who’s lived through abuse and misogyny and is discovering the ways all of that has affected her. And she’s trying to find her own identity and empowerment. That is how Rani Patel was born. She’s an amalgam of loud, intelligent, and fierce female voices. And Rani Patel in Full Effect is her story. The details of the story were inspired by three diverse cultures that I’ve grown up in—Gujarati, Hawaiian, and hip hop.

I love that the book is promoting diversity. Could you tell us a bit about the Indian culture embedded in the book? Yes, promoting diversity is very important to me because it can foster empathy and tolerance and help build individual self-worth and interpersonal relationships. In my line of work, I see it everyday.

As I mentioned in the previous question, in writing Rani Patel In Full Effect I wanted to portray Gujarati, Hawaiian, and hip hop culture, and break stereotypes, to the best of my ability. For instance, Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) do not spend their days lounging on the beach, wearing grass skirts, drinking mai tais, or living in grass shacks. They are an indigenous people that have suffered genocide. Hip hop and rap are not all about misogyny and violence. And Gujarati Indians are not all 7-11 and motel owning single dimensional hard workers. They are real people with real problems that can be accentuated by immigration. I wanted to offer readers a different perspective on Patels in the USA. And it is that aspect of Indian culture that I chose to embed in the book.

I bet you know a Patel. Patels are everywhere. Literally. The Patel diaspora from India is such that there are over 500,000 of them living in countries outside of India. In the United States alone, there are over 145,066 Patels and according to the 2000 U.S. census, the surname ranks 174th on the list of most common surnames in the country. And they’re not all related.

Most Patels are from the Indian state of Gujarat. Their is some debate over the exact origin of the Patel surname, but it’s likely the term Patel first referred to village leaders and/or a caste of landowners or farmers in Gujarat. Nowadays, Patels are involved in many types of professional occupations ranging from doctors to lawyers to engineers, though they are most often associated with small business trades, particularly motels and franchises.

Patels immigrated to America for the many of the same reasons as people from other countries. For economic opportunities. For educational opportunities for their children. For a better life. My parents were no exception- they immigrated in the early 70’s seeking the American dream. Patels often pay a price when they permanently move away from Gujarat. The price could be working two jobs with no days to rest. The price could be difficulty with adjusting to the American culture and language. It could be discrimination. The list is long, and not unique to Patel immigrants.

But, there is something missing from the Patel immigrant story. Something that casts a long, dark shadow. Something that I fear many Patels, including myself, haven’t been able to name. Something we don’t handle because we are so thankful to live in the land of opportunity. It’s something that crept into the suitcases of our parents as they boarded the Air India flight from Mumbai to London to New York City. Something that was easily caged or hidden in the cultural confines of Gujarat, where the close knit homogenous social network allowed for good of the whole and the good of the individual. But, once out of this cultural safety net, the something started it’s slow sabotage. And some Patels suffered. Like fish out of water.

I’m sure many Patel immigrants escaped unscathed, and achieved the American dream shielding themselves from the explosive mixture of old and new. But this wasn’t the experience for a number of the Patels I’ve known. For although they may have secured some financial stability and perhaps even amassed great wealth, their most intimate relationships broke. Couples. Parents and children. Adult siblings. From the outside, no one could see the damage, because there might not have been divorce or CPS involvement. No actual splitting of families.

But I’ve seen the collateral damage. The problem is that Patels don’t talk about it. Even as they whisper about rumors in the Patel community or chit chat over chai, no one speaks of the long term emotional ramifications of malfunctioning interpersonal relationships in families. Maybe in Gujarat, the endless social supports from other Patels provided enough cushion to prevent or diminish these negative emotional outcomes, but in the States, I’m sure it’s a different story. Balancing adjustment to a new culture while trying to hold onto the old culture makes creates interpersonal relationship strains and situations unheard of in Gujarat and some Patels weren’t ready. And perhaps tending to the emotional needs of a spouse or child wasn’t as much of a priority as making it in America. It’s the breakdown of the interpersonal relationships in some Patel families that I think has profoundly affected the succeeding generations. Me included. So much so that I chose the medical speciality of psychiatry, with a focus on children and adolescents, despite being told by several Patels that a psychiatrist is “not a real doctor.”

Since my experience as a Patel was that no one speaks about interpersonal relationship issues, I often wonder how emotionally hurt Patels find healing. I don’t think they go to psychiatrists. Plus, there isn’t much out there in fiction or nonfiction about Patel interpersonal relationship issues, particularly in the young adult genre. Either way, I want to shed light on these interpersonal issues that affect Patels just as much as they affect the families from every culture and nation, immigrant or not.

That’s why I chose the name Rani Patel for the main character in the young adult novel, Rani Patel in Full Effect. Rani Patel, her parents, and their experiences are based on a subtle alchemy of many Patel individuals and families I’ve known and some of the non-Patel teen and family patients I’ve treated. Rani Desai, Rani Shah, or Rani Amin would not have had the same impact.

You probably know a Patel. It is my hope that Rani Patel in Full Effect challenges you to think beyond the Patel stereotypes and truly see their humanity in their family relationship complexities. It might be what’s going on behind the closed doors of the Patel that you know.


"I bet you know a Patel. Patels are everywhere. Literally. The Patel diaspora from India is such that there are over 500,000 of them living in countries outside of India (1). In the United States alone, there are over 145,066 Patels and according to the 2000 U.S. census, the surname ranks 174th on the list of most common surnames in the country (2). And they’re not all related.
1 & 2 - Global Gujaratis: Now in 129 Nations. The Economic Times. July 4, 2015.

How did your knowledge and experience as a psychiatrist influence the book? As a psychiatrist who works with children, teens, and adults, I listen to people’s complex stories everyday. For Rani, I wanted to be a witness to teen girls and women who’ve survived complex dysfunctional family dynamics and incest. Over the years I’ve provided psychiatric treatment to hundreds of them. I’m well aware of how they’re shaped and injured by living through those ordeals. Besides guiding them through the very personal healing process, I wanted to advocate for them on a more societal level. I want to say, “Hey this stuff really happens in our backyards. Not just overseas.” And this kind of trauma actually damages their brains. In turn the brain damage results in symptoms, such as negative and anxious thoughts, re-experiencing feelings, low moods, and self-destructive behaviors. These symptoms “speak” their trauma instead of them being able to separate themselves from the trauma and say “this abuse happened to me.”

If the abuse happened in their youth, they may have missed out on normal child and adolescent emotional development because they were forced to serve as a sexual object and/or play a sexualized role even without improper physical contact. They were left with clashing feelings of being needed, loved and special but also used and trapped. Ironically, they probably have an innate need to preserve their primary attachment to their parents. They may desperately hold onto their abusive and/or neglectful parent because it is only in the context of the abusive relationship that have learned to function. They have not formed their identity separate from their abuser.

I also wanted to correct the inaccurate assumptions that many people hold regarding patients that have survived family dysfunction and incest.
“Can’t they just get over it?” Not usually.
“Can’t they just make better choices since they know what it feels like to get hurt?” Not usually.
“Can’t they get pissed at the abuser and cut them out of their life?” Not so easily.

Did you encounter obstacles while writing the book? How did you deal with it? 
The biggest obstacle was the ending. In most cases, survivors of longstanding sexual abuse or incest take a long time to fully heal. I often tell my patients that for each year they suffered trauma, it may take that many years to fully recover. Of course they will get a little better each year, but it takes time to overcome the damage that trauma causes. In the book, Rani was not fully recovered by the end. But she had stopped engaging in self-destructive behavior, gained insight into how the abuse had affected her, and knew what steps she’d have to keep taking to continue building her identity and power.

In real life, getting to that point would probably take more than a year to achieve. Because I wanted to give the reader some kind of resolution, I chose to have Rani develop insight. I wanted the reader to see what insight looks like. Insight is just the first step to healing. Maintaining positive behavior change and building identity and interpersonal relationships come next and can take years.

How different was the original version of the story from the final version? What changed? There are two major differences.

1. In the first version, I made Pradip’s overt sexual abuse/incest of Rani more subtle and his covert sexual abuse/incest of her more prominent. In the final version, I presented both more equally.

Overt incest involves touching. Most people can infer that this form of incest can have devastating consequences on the survivor. Overt and covert incest often occur simultaneously.

Covert incest is more subtle and some readers might not know it exists. In covert incest, there is no direct touching but there is suggested sexuality because the child is used by the adult for their own emotional fulfillment. In Rani’s case, Pradip used her as his “emotional wife.” Even if Pradip had not sexually touched her, the relationship would still have been sexualized and Rani would still have learned that she was good only if she could please her father. Her normal emotional development would still have stopped and she still would’ve grown up thinking she was nothing more that an emotional and sexual object for people to use. This is the exact same lesson children who have been through overt incest receive.

So, survivors of covert and overt incest can display the exact same symptoms and consequences as they become adults.

In writing Rani, I obviously wasn’t writing a psychiatric textbook on the effects of overt and covert incest. I was concerned that if I downplayed the overt incest, it might not be clear to the reader that by keeping Rani so close to him, Pradip was in fact still sexually abusing Rani. So I decided to describe the overt incest in a little more detail. Rani would’ve suffered the same symptoms in any of these situations: overt incest alone, covert incest alone, or combined overt and covert incest.

2. In the first version, Rani got pregnant after Mark raped her and she got an abortion. Turns out by including those two topics, there was just too much going on. Plus I wanted the focus to be more on the incest and rape. So, I got rid of the pregnancy and abortion.

Thank you, Sonia!

About the Author:

She is the first person in her Gujarati immigrant family to be born in the United States of America. Her parents had a traditional arranged marriage in Gujarat, India.

She graduated from Moloka'i High & Intermediate School, then obtained her bachelor's degree in history at Stanford University. She earned a medical degree from the University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine, and then completed five years of residency training in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry at Stanford University and the University of Hawai'i. Immediately after residency, she worked as a psychiatrist on both Oahu and Moloka'i.

Currently, she practices psychiatry on Oahu. She is especially passionate about helping teens work through the emotional sequelae of sexual, physical, and mental abuse. She also does family therapy to help resolve complicated family systems issues. In addition, She has led various teen groups- process therapy groups aimed at building interpersonal and assertiveness skills for depressed, anxious, and eating disordered girls, book discussion groups with incarcerated girls from all the Hawaiian islands, and safe sex psychoeducation groups with psychiatrically hospitalized teens.

When she is not in the office, you can find her trekking in some lush mountain or valley. Or making hot fudge (or any other sweet treat with the magic five ingredients of semi-sweet chocolate, butter, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla). Or listening to hip hop. Or writing rhymes. Or practicing the latest hip hop dance moves (much to the chagrin of her children). Or discovering new TV shows to binge watch (her favorites include: Peaky Blinders, The Wire, Game of Thrones, and The Hour). And then there's foreign travel, which she doed for two reasons: culinary pleasure and finding underground hip hop clubs. So far, the best of both are in Seoul, Tokyo, and London.

She lives on Oahu with her husband, two children, and dog.

Find Sonia: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website | Tumblr | Pinterest

Book Description:

Hardcover, 315 pages
Expected publication: October 11th 2016 by Cinco Puntos Press

Almost seventeen, Rani Patel appears to be a kick-ass Indian girl breaking cultural norms as a hip-hop performer in full effect. But in truth, she's a nerdy flat-chested nobody who lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, isolated from her high school peers by the unsettling norms of Indian culture where "husband is God." Her parents' traditionally arranged marriage is a sham. Her dad turns to her for all his needs—even the intimate ones. When Rani catches him two-timing with a woman barely older than herself, she feels like a widow and, like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Her sexy bald head and hard-driving rhyming skills attract the attention of Mark, the hot older customer who frequents her parents' store and is closer in age to her dad than to her. Mark makes the moves on her and Rani goes with it. He leads Rani into 4eva Flowin', an underground hip hop crew—and into other things she's never done. Rani ignores the red flags. Her naive choices look like they will undo her but ultimately give her the chance to discover her strengths and restore the things she thought she'd lost, including her mother.


Thanks to Sonia for sponsoring this giveaway!
What's up for grabs: Copy of Rani Patel in Full Effect
Scope: International!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Treat yourself to a complete #CelebratingDebutantes2016 experience. Click the image below for the full schedule and links to the posts!


  1. Looks awesome! It'd be really cool to read this!

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