I recently got the chance to read a new debut, KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE , by the talented Kristi Wientge. It’s a wonderfully funny, thoughtful look into a subject you rarely see — female facial hair.
When 12-year-old Karma discovers seventeen hairs growing above her lip, she is mortified and determined to get rid of them. Karma’s path to hair removal includes navigating shifting relationships with her parents, her best friend, and her comfort level with being the only kid in school who brings sardine masala and chapatis for lunch.
This interview with Kristi was especially fun to do because my son and I read KARMA together, and he contributed a few questions:
How did you come up with the character of Karma? Is she modeled after someone you know? (From my son) (First of all, can I just say that I love that you read this and came up with some excellent questions!)
Karma evolved as a character. She started off as just a name and a problem: her mustache. Slowly, she became who you read in the book. Her situations mirror mine and things that have happened to my girls, but really she’s very much her own person. Much stronger than I ever was at her age!
How did you first get the idea to write this book? (Also from my son)
The idea for Karma has been bouncing around in my head since I was ten years old. I wanted to read a book about a hairy girl, but never found one. Once I had children of my own and saw them go through similar situations, I knew it was time to figure out how to make this idea of a hairy girl into a book.
Your main character, Karma, is so wonderful for so many reasons. She’s also very different from many of the tween girls in today’s children’s literature – facial hair and a dad who wears a turban are wonderful distinctions. Yet I also came away with the impression you intended to illustrate not just the lovely diversity in her family and life but also the commonalities that connect all girls this age?
Yes, you really nailed this! The world is so interconnected we can no longer remain ignorant to things outside our normal. The more we explore outside of our comfort zone, the more we find we have in common with everyone.
Madeleine L’Engle famously said that if a subject is too hard for adults, write it for children. You tackle some pretty heavy concepts in this book – karma, spirituality, what it means to be a good person. What are the themes you hope will most resonate with your readers?
All of the threads in my book really evolved naturally. I didn’t set out to make a statement on diversity or spirituality. I set out to write a book about a girl dealing with facial hair and the rest just layered on organically. I hope that whoever reads this book walks away with a broader horizon and more empathy. I hope that Karma is a springboard into conversations about female facial hair, something I didn’t talk candidly about until I was in my twenties. My last hope is that more facial hair stories get out there so girls can feel comfortable in their own skin. My readers should definitely check out Harnaam Kaur who actually blurbed the book. She has embraced her facial hair and is a fabulous example of self-acceptance.
How will you be celebrating your debut on August 15?
I’m delaying my celebration until November when my kids and I are traveling to the US. I hope to to meet my agent, Patricia Nelson—which will be a huge deal. Then, my kids and I are going to eat Chipotle like we haven’t had it in 2 years—which we haven’t! Oh yeah, and I can’t wait to down a jug of sweet tea from Chick-fil-a.
Have your children read KARMA?
No! And they call themselves my children! I really should punish them, but I’m actually relieved in a way. I get so, so nervous when people I know well read it.
What’s next for you – will we be seeing another book about Karma or do you have another book in the works?
For now, Karma’s story is done and I like where I left it. I’m excited to tell more stories with other characters. I’ve got a few things I’m playing with. One I hope Patricia, my agent, and I can get out there.
Is there anything I didn’t ask but you’d really like us to know about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE?
You guys did a great job with these questions! I’ll let you in on a little secret about the book. You asked if Karma was based on anyone and I said mostly no. That’s true. But Daddy… don’t tell anyone, but he is HUGELY based on my husband!!! There are some word-for-word quotes from him. A few times during dinner, I’d run and get my notebook and chuckle to myself as I scribbled down something he said as I imagined the perfect scene to add it to! I LOVE that secret! Very funny – adds a whole new layer of fun to that character.
Thank you so much to Kristi for this wonderful interview. And because we had so much fun reading her book, we’re giving away a copy to one lucky winner.
Enter the Rafflecopter below!! Note: Rafflecopter will accept entries until August 8 at midnight.
Kristi Wientge is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out. She’s spent twelve years raising her family in her husband’s home country of Singapore, where she spends her days taking her four kids to school, Punjabi lessons, and music. With the help of her mother-in-law, she can now make a mean curry and a super-speedy saag. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is her debut novel.