What I Meant...

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  • Format: Nonspecific Binding
  • Copyright: 2007-07-24
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
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After 15 years of being a good daughter and loyal friend, wouldn't you expect the people closest to you to believe you? To at least try to understand what you mean? Since my evil aunt moved in, everything has gone wrong. My little sister thinks I'm a thief. My best friend thinks I'm a jerk. My parents think I'm bulimic. And the boy I love thinks I'm not into him at all. Somehow I have to set the record straight before I totally lose my mind. Marie Lamba's debut novel tells the story of how 15-year-old Sangeet Jumnal's sleepy suburban life suddenly gets super complicated. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Marie Lamba and her husband, Baldev, have journeyed all over the Indian subcontinent. They live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with two remarkable daughters.

From the Hardcover edition.


“What exactly did they say?” “To call.” I give my aunt a faint smile.

“What did they say? You must think.”

That is what they said, you stupid old cow! I want to scream this, but of course I don’t. Okay. Let me backtrack a bit. I know this doesn’t sound good, but I’m a nice person. Really. And I’m totally loving to my family. And, true, my aunt is part of my family, but from the Indian side. She’s my dad’s sister-in-law. Normally I love my Indian relatives, though I don’t see them that often, but normally my Indian relatives are all sweet and nice and ask me questions about how I am and smile. Sadly, there is nothing normal about my aunt. Because she’s my dad’s brother’s wife, I’m supposed to call her “Chachi,” but that sounds all affectionate, like she’s someone who would hug me and make sticky sweet rosogullas for me and tell me to eat them all because I’m so skinny. Right. I guess that’s the idea we all had when we turned our lives upside down to let Chachi live with us. It’ll only be two years, my father had reasoned. Just long enough for my cousin to finish his undergraduate degree, and now, with my brother, Hari, at college, we have a bedroom free, so . . .

“You must tell me every word this person is saying,” my aunt says. She is scowling now. As if I am hiding the answer to her problems. As if the entire universe is out to get her. I smile at this.

“Eh?” she says in a sharp voice. Her black eyebrows are raised, and she looks like she’d be happy to smack my knuckles with the portable phone she is waving at my face. Really, it’d be so easy to snatch the phone from her bony hand and whack her on the head with it. Not a hard whack, you know. Just a friendly rap. Just a way of saying, You asked the question and I answered it. Listen and move on!

My little sister Doodles comes running into the kitchen: “It’s gone!” She looks panicked. Since Doodles is only eight and tends toward the dramatic, I figure she’s lost something goofy, like her bubble-gum-wrapper collection. But she says, “All my money. Gone!”

“Don’t interrupt,” Chachi says.

“Wait,” I say. “Doodles, are you sure?” She’s been saving money for Christmas presents since the end of the summer. When she last showed me, her purse held a surprising thirty-eight dollars.

“My purse was hanging on the back of my door. Now it’s gone.”

“And?” Chachi demands. “How does this concern me?”

I take a deep breath and remind myself of all the reasons my parents say I should be extra nice to Chachi. Because she is family, and family takes care of family no matter what. (This is my dad’s way of thinking.) Because she’s been all alone in America since her husband died and her only son has gone to college. Be a good person and just try to be patient. (This is my mom’s view.)

“It was a lot of money for Doodles,” I try to explain. “This means a lot to her.”

Chachi frowns at my sister. “It is gone now. You go too.”

Tears brim in Doodles’ eyes as she rushes from the room.

“Why did you have to be so—”

“Tell me,” she says. “What was said, exactly?”

Patience, Sang. Lots of patience. “The woman said, ‘Is Kajal there?’ I said no. She said, ‘Can you have her call Carol at Copy Stop?’ I said, ‘Sure, what is the number?’ And she said . . .” I look at the pink message slip I filled out, and I read the number back to her. “She said, ‘Thank you.’ I said, ‘Sure, goodbye.’ She said, ‘Goodbye.’ Click. Dial tone.”

My aunt bunches up her eyebrows. I’d like to say they’re bushy, but no. They’re delicate. She’s younger than my mom, and actually quite pretty, with her long black hair and heart-shaped face. Anyway, I used to think she was pretty before I got to know her better. So my aunt bunches up her eyebrows and says, in that harsh accent of hers, “No. Think again. I must know.”

I long to scream, LEAVE ME ALONE! THE TRUTH ISN’T SOME MULTIPLE-CHOICE TEST! IT IS WHAT IT IS! For one terrible moment, I think I might actually do it—yell in that tone I only have the nerve to use on my mom, who has to love me no matter what. I tighten my mouth, holding back the words. The tension between my aunt and me is palpable. Electric.


We both jump, for the phone in her hand has sprung to life. My aunt answers it, saying in the softest, kindest voice, “ ’Allo?”

Forgoing the snack I’d originally journeyed to the kitchen to find, I take my cue and sprint through the living room and up the steps leading to the bedrooms. My sister is sitting on her bed, her back to me, arms crossed.

“Doodles? You okay?”

She doesn’t turn around, or even move. I realize she’s trying hard not to cry.

“Don’t let her bug you,” I say in a low voice.

“Sangeet!” Chachi shouts. “Telephone!”

In my own room, I grab my phone and say, “Hey,” just as I close the door and pop the lock.

“It’s me,” Gina, my best friend, says.

I sink onto my bed and twirl a lock of my black hair round and round my finger. “What did you do now?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The phone?” Gina usually meets me online after school. A phone call means she’s grounded for something. No Internet. No radio. Somehow her parents never consider the phone as a privilege to be taken away. Probably because Gina never touches it—unless she’s grounded.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from What I Meant... by Marie Lamba
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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