I knew Maulik Pancholy was an actor and I remembered that he served on an advisory committee in the Obama administration, but I had no idea that he was a children’s book author as well. Netgalley and HarperCollins Children’s Books gave me the opportunity to read and review an advanced reader copy of Nikhil Out Loud, and I am so grateful that they did. This book will be released on October 11 and I can’t wait for middle grade readers to engage with the characters in this delightful book.
Nikhil is a 12-year-old, Indian American actor living in Los Angeles and he is the star of a very popular cartoon on TV. He loves acting, and while the attention he receives might be more intense than he would like, his life is pretty wonderful. But then his Nana (grandfather) who lives in Ohio becomes ill and Nikhil and his mom move to help take care of him. Nikhil will spend his eighth grade year away from his friends and his community.
Starting over in a new school is never easy, but Nikhil is lucky enough to make some fantastic friends almost as soon as he arrives. It probably doesn’t hurt that he is instantly recognizable. He even lands the lead role in the school musical, though singing is not his greatest talent. When he is interviewed for the student newspaper and asked about his dating life, Nikhil barely hesitates before saying that, if he was dating, he would be dating a boy. Nikhil’s mom is proud of him for being so brave and the students in his school are remarkably nonchalant about this revelation. However, with striking similarity to many of the situations that are happening around the country today, there is one adult in the town who simply refuses to accept that a child who is gay should be put in any positive spotlight. She insists that Nikhil be removed from the musical.
While Nikhil Out Loud does include this instance of homophobia, this is not at all a central theme. Instead, it highlights how schools, students, and families can see being gay as just one more part of an individual, nothing more or less consequential than that. Nikhil is going through all sorts of changes that will be relatable to many teens, including his voice changing (although this is a bit more of an issue for a voice actor than it might be for many readers). Nikhil is a character who will win the hearts of readers both young and old.
Identity 1: I know and like who I am and can comfortably talk about my family and myself and describe our various group identities.
Identity 4: I feel good about my many identities and know they don’t make me better than people with other identities.
Diversity 6: I interact with people who are similar to and different from me, and I show respect to all people.