For an adolescent, finding a niche for oneself may feel like a never-ending worry, constantly looming over one’s head. Most of us have tried hard to fit in and create an impression of a lifetime. Maulik Pancholy penned down similar struggles of his own in his book, The Best At It, a semi-autobiographical take on navigating life as a seventh grader, who is learning to value his sexuality and mental health.
Known for lending his voice to the popular character, Baljeet, from the children’s television show, Phineas and Ferb, Maulik is well-known in his own right. The Best At It is a great pick for all young minds who wish to live their truth. Not seeing his community represented in children’s books drove Maulik to write his debut novel. Growing up, he didn’t feel seen in the books that he read and wished someone would speak to him. He decided to take matters into his own hands and wrote The Best At It so young readers could experience the satisfaction of reading words that resonated with their own lived experience. The novel reaches out to all middle-graders who are looking for acceptance and struggling to find their own self-worth.
Apart from Rahul Kapoor, the teen protagonist, the story features several other layered characters from diverse backgrounds. Rahul is inspired by his grandfather’s stories, and takes it upon himself to get out there and be the best at something. Actions speak louder than words, and he felt finding what he is the absolute best at would leave a permanent impression on his peers and help him escape the taunts of his bullies.
In this journey of self-discovery, Rahul is always supported by his friend, Chelsea, who pushes him to own his truth and follow what he loves. In his pursuit of excellence, Rahul fails at multiple activities, but he finally seems to create a persona for himself as a mathlete. But tragedy strikes again and he has to confront the ever-confounding question: Who is Rahul, really?
In The Best At It, we see Rahul navigate the highs and lows of his deteriorating mental health and his journey towards healing and self-love. Even today, the stigma surrounding mental health remains. The book acknowledges that seeking help will enable many struggling adolescents to become healthier.
It also doesn’t shy away from putting the spotlight on social evils such as racism, homophobia, and ableism, that continue to exist and affect people of all ages, especially children. Bullying too has been approached with sensitivity and nuance; examining the mental make-up of the bully as well as the bullied. The Best At It is a perfect read for 10-14 year-olds that will nudge them to embark on a journey of self-discovery.
About Neev Book Award
The Neev Book Award for distinguished children’s literature was started in 2018 with an aim to recognize outstanding writing that leads to a fuller understanding of India, Indian lives, and Indian stories. This award aims to promote and encourage high-quality children’s literature from India. Each winner is honoured at the Neev Literature Festival for their contributions with a certificate, trophy, and cash award of ₹1,00,000. The shortlist for the 2022 Neev Book Award 2022 reflects the diversity of children’s literature, and spotlights how books may foster human qualities of empathy, grief, compassion, and perseverance in young readers.