Taneesha Never Disparaging is billed as a young adult novel, but it’s a perfect read for all ages, exemplifying how spiritual principles can help us face up to our fears and transform hatred into love.
Taneesha Bey-Ross is a typical fifth-grader, facing her weaknesses and challenges in home, school and daily life. Taneesha is funny, creative, honest, and a loyal friend to Carli, a girl she befriended in first grade. Carli lives with her father and wears leg braces. Taneesha is African-American, while Carli is white. It is on their walks home together after school that they encounter their tormentor — a girl twice their size who bullies them and awakens Taneesha’s “evil twin” Evella, who embodies Taneesha’s inner doubts and becomes her inner tormentor. Through Taneesha we learn that we can conquer our fears and self doubts with humor, compassion, patience and love. In the end Taneesha realizes the bully is exactly the same as herself — with her own frailties, fears, and suffering, and that her bullying is a way of coping with this. This recognition allows Taneesha to connect with her enemy on a human level, and the two become friends. Taneesha’s Buddhist background, and the work she does on herself, makes this possible.
Taneesha’s parents are Buddhist and have raised her in their faith. The family together shares the rituals, teachings, and spiritual vacations, all along the way chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (“I devote my life to the wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Teaching of the Buddha”). Taneesha has been practicing Buddhism since she can remember, and like most children growing up in a faith she does so out of love and respect for her parents. However as she grows into her eleventh year she begins to understand on her own the significance of her beliefs and the power of love. “In that moment, an invisible, cozy blanket wrapped around me and I realized something: It was true, I had to face life on my own. But I wasn’t alone. Even when my parents weren’t with me, their love was. And it always would be.”
M. LaVora Perry has herself been a practicing Buddhist since 1987. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she still lives with her own family. She has received numerous awards and is a contributing writer for many publications.
Perry makes Taneesha Never Disparaging an easy and engaging read. Its two hundred pages offer young readers to explore life in the company of a peer. The writing is powerful and profound, and Perry investigates and explores the inner worlds of young people with respect and compassion. She reminds us all the value of family and the wisdom of parental guidance. She reminds us of the important of the personal quest, and of the need to be heard and to make a difference in the world. This is a must-read for young people, especially in these times, where we are all struggling with conflicts, learning how to love one another in the faces of difference, and faced with the need to cherish ourselves through helping others.