Published by Simon and Schuster BFYR on August 15, 2017
Genres: MG Contemporary
Source: YA Books Central
Debut author Kristi Wientge tackles the uncomfortable—but all too relatable—subject of female body hair and self-esteem with this sweet and charming novel in the tradition of Judy Blume.
Karma Khullar is about to start middle school, and she is super nervous. Not just because it seems like her best friend has found a newer, blonder best friend. Or the fact that her home life is shaken up by the death of her dadima. Or even that her dad is the new stay-at-home parent, leading her mother to spend most of her time at work. But because she’s realized that she has seventeen hairs that have formed a mustache on her upper lip.
With everyone around her focused on other things, Karma is left to figure out what to make of her terrifyingly hairy surprise all on her own.
Diversity: 3 – Closer to Reality
Racial-Ethnic: 5 (Karma is Sikh through her father and turns to her faith to help her cope with being bullied)
They are truths universally acknowledged that middle school is terrible and body hair is annoying. I don’t actually have much of an issue with body hair, luckily. Armpit hair is so nonexistent it’s only a twice-a-year thing and my legs get taken care of every three months just so I don’t feel like bugs are constantly crawling on me. (I use hair-removal lotion due to the traumatic incident of me cutting open my pinkie toe with a razor when I was four.) Not here for that TMI? TOO BAD, THIS BOOK IS ALL ABOUT BODY HAIR. And also one adorable little girl named Karma whose best friend is dumping her for the new girl.
Karma and the rest of the cast are flawed, well-drawn characters all too much like the soulless demons we all were in middle school. All of us. It’s just a fact that every child loses their soul while they’re in middle school and can only get it back upon entering high school. Anyway, after the new girl gets everyone started teasing Karma for the small mustache growing on her face, she turns to her faith as a way to cope with and rise above the bullying. Also, she ends up having a very bloody excursion with shaving that demonstrates why I prefer my hair removal lotion.
Honestly, putting into detail why Karma and her story enchanted me so is difficult. It’s more easily spelled out in bulletpoint fashion: relatable situations like how much it sucks to lose your best friend as you start middle school, on-point humor, the frank way it deals with the rarely-talked-about issue of body hair, my desire to wrap Karma up in a blanket and keep her safe from the world…
Lemme tell you a story and I swear it has a point. In elementary and middle school, I had a bully named Kaely. We were in all the same classes and she always sat behind me due to adjacent surnames. Generally, I was terrible at effectively fighting back against my bullies, but after years of her grading my papers wrong. I was DONE by the time we hit eighth grade. The straw that broke my back was her dumping the dirt from her shoes all over my schoolbooks when we were in American History. (We had the desks you stored your stuff underneath in wire baskets and she used mine as a footrest.)
My solution: do what I usually do, which was ask her politely to stop. If she didn’t, I’d just leeeeeeean down like I was going to get something from my stuff and stab her feet through the holes in her tennis shoes. These instances were the only times I ever took up any physical or verbal arms against a bully.
I do not recommend this course of action to anyone, but it demonstrates the situational courage I wanted to lend Karma and how much I cared about her. It only worked because I had the perfect conditions in place. The teacher absolutely loved me (it’s always been like this with my teachers and I’m not sure why) and he did not like Kaely one little bit because she was a chatterbox. Therefore, when I’d strike back, he didn’t do anything when she complained. Well, he did nothing until he moved her elsewhere solely because she wouldn’t stop talking with her seat neighbors during class. Then my problem was solved!
The only way I don’t recommend Karma Khullar’s Mustache is if you’re the type who is deeply affected by secondhand embarrassment. That may sounds a little odd, but I’ve met readers for whom secondhand embarrassment via a fictional character is a real problem that keeps them from reading a book–and Karma goes through a lot of embarrassing stuff. I’m not usually bothered by such things and even I had to put down the book sometimes because I was cringing so hard on Karma’s behalf.
No matter where your body hair falls on the spectrum of out of control (Karma’s) to barely a problem (mine), Karma Khullar’s Mustache is an entertaining tale that accomplishes the nigh-impossible by making you look back fondly on middle school. Body hair is still a pain and a half, but it course be worse. Like that time period blood stained the back of my pants thoroughly and no one told me until the end of the day. (At least no one teased me about it afterward. I suppose they draw a line somewhere.)