Alan Barkan: Grade 7
On Monday, March 13, 2017, the co-author of Save Me A Seat, Gita Varadarajan, visited Buckley to talk about her book and about what happened in her life to lead to the creation of her novel. She spoke to the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades in the auditorium that morning.
Varadarajan’s book, Save Me A Seat, is about two kids, Ravi and Joe, who are in the same classroom in the fifth grade. Their first week of school is very chaotic, and these two kids do not think that they have anything in common. But they do in fact have one big problem that they share: the fifth-grade bully.
Varadarajan moved to America in 2010. She has two sons and a husband, and she became a teacher in Princeton, New Jersey. She met her co-author, Sarah Weeks, in a writing class, and after Varadarajan’s story fascinated Weeks, they decided to work together and compromise on their ideas to create Save Me A Seat.
Varadarajan said that all of her ideas from the book were based on her life experiences. Her father worked on tea plantations in India and had to deal with leeches, just like Ravi’s father did. Varadarajan felt left out and did not know about American customs when she moved, just like Ravi did not know how to fit in with the kids in his American school.
Ravi’s excitement and courage to answer questions in class, however, was nothing compared to Varadarajan’s life. She said that she was a shy girl and did not have the courage to even raise her hand in class. She spoke about all of these things during her Buckley visit. She also was glad to answer some questions students had for her.
Here are summaries of some of the questions and answers:
Q: Was anybody whom you put in the book not an original thought?
A: When we wrote the first draft, it just had Ravi, Joe, Dillon Samreen, and a few classmates. More scenes were at home than at school, so we had to go back and revise our whole book, and then we added more characters to add more drama.
Q: Is anyone in your life like Ravi’s grandma?
A: The truth? Me. I am a very naggy mom, and my son even calls me that. The grandmother was a little bit of me and a little of my grandmother.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to people our age who are going through our experiences?
A: Write them down. You can look back on these experiences and memories and write a story.
Q: Have you ever felt like Ravi did when he was bullied?
A: Yes, in sixth grade I was quiet and shy, but I didn’t have the courage to stand up to the other classmates.
Q: Who was the inspiration behind Dillon Samreen?
A: Dillon Samreen is an ABCD. When I came to the United States as an Indian, I began to observe the ABCDs around me. I saw how some of the kids had treated my sons, and how my sons had the Indian accent and had just come from India, and I thought that I could make the antagonist an ABCD. I also thought of having the protagonist and the antagonist both brown, and that’s what happened in the book.
Q: Why did you make the book take place over five days?
A: We wanted our story to be short and focused, and we didn’t want to add too much, so it wouldn’t be overwhelming to read and catch up on.
Q: What made you want to make Ravi realize that he was a bully in India?
A: So here’s the thing: before I moved from India to America, I was top of the class, the best, smart, and I was just like Ravi. But when I came here, nobody valued my knowledge, just like Ravi. And then I realized what it meant to be powerless and how it felt, and that’s what Ravi felt, too.
Q: Where did you get the name of the school from?
A: Well I thought, what would be the name of a school that would make Amma and Perimma proud?
Q: Will you write a sequel?
A: I am thinking of writing a story about Ravi going back to India. He will be Americanized, and become an ABCD like Dillon Samreen.
Q: What was your first step in writing the book?
A: Well, the first step was to create a character to write about. I needed to create a character that my audience, my class, would be interested in, and how it would relate to my life and my experiences. I thought a lot about what Ravi looked like, what he wore, where he lived, and then that’s when the story got put into place.
Q: Where did you come up with the nicknames for the characters?
A: I was just thinking about names that fit the characters and their personalities with Sarah Weeks.
Q: Would you think about making a movie about this?
A: Well, I wish I had the power to make the movie, but I don’t. I think it would be great to have a movie about the book, but it’s beyond my control.
The students, teachers, and parents then thanked Varadarajan for coming, and to finish off the morning assembly, the fifth grade read aloud reasons why everyone should read Save Me A Seat. Students were even able to get an autograph from Varadarajan after the assembly. The author’s visit was interesting and a great experience to learn about her life and what happened behind the scenes of the novel.