They called us exceptional And other lies that raised us

Prachi Gupta

Book - 2023

"An Indian American daughter reveals how the dangerous model minority myth fractured her family in this searing, brave memoir. How do we understand ourselves when the story about who we are supposed to be is stronger than our sense of self? What do we stand to gain-and lose-by taking control of our narrative? These questions propel Prachi Gupta's heartfelt memoir, and can feel particularly fraught for many immigrants and their children who live under immense pressure to belong in Family defined the cultural identity of Prachi and her brother, Yush, connecting them to a larger Indian American community amid white suburbia. But their belonging was predicated on a powerful myth: that Asian Americans, and Indian Americans in particular, have perfected the alchemy of middle-class life, raising tight-knit, high-achieving families that are immune to hardship. Molding oneself to fit this image often comes at a steep, but hidden, cost. In They Called Us Exceptional, Gupta articulates the dissonance, shame, and isolation of being upheld as an American success story while privately navigating traumas invisible to the outside world. Gupta addresses her mother throughout the book, weaving a deeply vulnerable personal narrative with history, postcolonial theory, and research on mental health to show how she slowly made sense of her reality and freed herself from the pervasive, reductive myth that had once defined her. But tragically, the act that liberated Gupta was also the act that distanced her from those she loved most. By charting her family's slow unraveling and her determination to break the cycle, Gupta shows how traditional notions of success keep us disconnected from ourselves and one another-and passionately argues why we must orient ourselves toward compassion over belonging"--

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New York : Crown [2023]
First edition
Physical Description
viii, 273 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 271-273).
Main Author
Prachi Gupta (author)
  • Dawn
  • Color-blocked
  • Mismatched expectations
  • Origins obscured
  • Me, me who me
  • Suburban camoflage
  • Rise, spirit
  • Good girls don't have bodies
  • Rebellion
  • Shrink and expand
  • Boyfriends
  • Homecoming
  • Discovering aliens
  • Jekyll and Hyde
  • Numb
  • New beginnings
  • One-way street
  • Broken hearts
  • Terminator of the male ego
  • Parts unearthed
  • Remembering
  • Home is a ghost
  • Wanting it all
  • Choosing myself
  • Welcome you to the Prachi-Prach
  • 5'10''
  • The truth
  • When the earth splits open.
Review by Booklist Review

Expanding on a devastating piece for Jezebel about the red pill indoctrination and subsequent death of her beloved younger brother, Gupta delivers an intensely personal excavation of her family background in this memoir. The book begins and ends with the deep core of love that bound together Gupta's volatile, sometimes abusive father, the baby brother she adored and lost, the gentle and sacrificing mother to whom she addresses her writing, and, of course, herself. The apple of her father's eye as a child, Gupta eventually began to rebel against his expectations, which made her the target of his unpredictable rage. The harder she worked to understand the generational traumas and societal forces that had shaped her family's mindset, the harder it became to maintain a relationship with parents who continued to deny her reality. They Called Us Exceptional is a heartfelt memoir of love and dysfunction, an indictment of the premium America places on exterior markers of success, and a careful exploration of the legacies of institutionalized racism, family illness, and constrictive ideals of gender.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this passionate memoir, journalist Gupta (AOC: Fighter, Phenom, Changemaker) details the stresses she endured growing up in a volatile Indian American family. Addressing her estranged mother directly, Gupta reveals how she survived a household in which her life was tightly managed by her controlling father, who was plagued by violent moods and intolerant of the slightest deviation from his directions. Meanwhile, Gupta's mother regularly excused her father's aggression and hostility. To please her parents, Gupta became a stereotypical high-achieving Indian American student but grew keenly aware that she was discriminated against--by her family and others--because of her gender. She painfully traces how her nuclear family splintered, highlighting her youngest brother's struggles with mental illness and his shift from close, loving sibling to an antagonist who came to view her as a "hateful" feminist. Ultimately, Gupta found liberation by pursuing a career in writing and distancing herself from her parents: while she still hopes to reconcile with them, she "no longer live in the space where I tell myself that if I silence or shrink myself, I can one day have that ideal relationship with you both." Her startling candor and willingness to confront painful truths make this sing. Readers who've broken free from toxic family dynamics--or are hoping to do so--will want to check it out. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary. (Aug.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

A fraught memoir of life in a psychically tangled Indian American household riven by ambition and discontent. Gupta, a former senior reporter at Jezebel who had the distinction of incurring Donald Trump's wrath thanks to a probing interview she did with a defensive, elusive Ivanka, grew up as one of "the new model minority": immigrants from India who are highly educated, wealthy, and endlessly hardworking. That success, she holds, is a result of a "thrice-filtered and stratified" selection process whereby the most privileged in India leave for better opportunities abroad. The author's father moved from India to Canada to the U.S. following an arranged marriage, and there he began a successful career in medicine. Alternately emotionally distant and full of self-doubt, he often demeaned Gupta's mother, a modern example of "how women's voices…were appropriated by both the British colonizers and Indian men in power during the struggle for control." Addressing much of her narrative to her mother in the second person, Gupta recounts the pressures of being brought up with aspirational expectations of perfection that she came to resist, if mostly innocently: "Papa cast my rebellion as typical American teen behavior. But, Mummy, real rebels would have laughed at me." The friction among parents and daughter grows ever more grinding as the memoir proceeds into young adulthood, yielding both tragedy and a rupture within a seemingly ironclad nuclear South Asian family. Gupta does not often become overwrought, though there are moments. More notable is her difficulty in understanding the motives of her driven father and a mother of whom, she admits in direct address, "I never asked you what hopes and dreams buoyed you amid the all-consuming loneliness and grief of leaving your family and your country behind. I had just assumed that the West, the land of oppor-tunity, was so obviously the best place to live." In relentlessly grim, unsparing prose, Gupta offers proof of Tolstoy's observation that each unhappy family is uniquely so. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.