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Literature / The Best at It

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The Best at It is a 2019 semi-autobiographical Middle Grade novel written by Maulik Pancholy (of 30 Rock and Sanjay and Craig fame).

12-year-old Rahul Kapoor is anxious to start the 7th grade. His grandfather Bhai shares an ancedote about his late grandmother and gives him this advice: Find one thing you’re really good at, and become the best at it.

Rahul is ready to make this school year his year. The problem is, Rahul doesn't know what he's the best at. And there's other things he's dealing with: The bully at school that's constantly teasing him, the upcoming International Bazaar, the funny feelings he gets when thinking about a male classmate. Fighting through stress and anxiety, Rahul tries several things to be good at, but what if he's not the best of at anything?

A television series adaptation is currently in the works with HBO Max with Pancholy set to executive produce and write for.

Trope Examples

  • The Ace: Justin Emery, Rahul's one-time friend and current target of admiration, who's good looking and on the football team.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rahul's 9-year-old brother Arun, completely played straight.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Brent Mason, possibly. He mercilessly teases Rahul about being gay and liking Justin, but when Rahul finally stands up for himself and has his friends behind him, Brent bolts away, almost in tears. The book doesn't state Brent's orientation definitively, but Rahul and Chelsea think that this trope may play a part in Brent's teasing, not to mention his stern father.
  • Be Yourself: The message of the book; Rahul learns to love himself and that he's the best at being himself.
  • Bollywood Nerd: Rahul, who's great at math and numbers though he wants to hide this part of himself to not appear as a "typical" Indian.
  • The Bully: Brent Mason, who always seems to find a way to tease and pick on Rahul for being gay and Indian.
  • Camp Gay: Downplayed, for Rahul. He's more of a nerd than anything, but he has enough effeminate traits (no interest in sports, likes Teen Pop music, female best friend) to be teased by Brent and for everyone close to him to be aware of.
  • Coming of Age Story: The novel is about how Rahul learns to stop trying so hard to be someone else, and to be himself and be proud of who he is.
    • Coming-Out Story: Yes it's that one too. Rahul comes to terms with his sexuality and is met with support from his friends and family.
  • Cultural Cringe: Rahul isn't quite ashamed of being Indian, but he's certainly embarrassed by some aspects of his identity, especially when his mom's friends ("The Auntie Sqaud" as he named them) come to his school to promote their International Bizaar, decked out in saris.
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: Rahul is unconsciously enamored with Justin, a football jock on the middle school team.
  • Gayngst: Rahul's budding sexuality, along with his other issues in regards to his identity manifest in anxiety, leading him to obsessive compulsive behaviors.
  • Good with Numbers: Rahul, though he wants to hide this aspect of himself as to not seem stereotypical. He does end up joing the Matheletes towards the end of the novel, despite resisting all throughout the book.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Bhai is a Cool Old Guy. While in a wheelchair, he has a youthful spirit and considers Rahul and Chelsea to be his friends.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: In his quest to be the best at something, Rahul tries out of the football team, somewhat in part due to Justin being on it. It goes about how you would expect, and he ends up spraining his ankle badly.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Chelsea and Rahul; Chelsea being a Tomboy and Rahul being a gay, effeminate boy.
  • Neat Freak: Rahul, who dislikes germs and dirt, possibly playing into his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Nervous Wreck: Auditioning for the commercial sets off all of Rahul's insecurities about his looks and race; he edits his headshot to look perfect (read: "whiter") and sweats profusely, staining shirts and having to use makeup powder which also makes him look whiter.
  • Nice Girl: Chelsea, Rahul's dependable and capable friend. She regularly stands up for him and is something of a Soapbox Sadie and has an interest in social justice.
  • Nice Guy: Justin Emery, a Lovable Jock that Rahul was friends with when he was younger, and is smitten with. Justin is nice and kind and attractive, so much so that Rahul doesn't know if he just likes Justin or wants to BE Justin.
  • Obsessively Organized: When stressed and anxious, Rahul starts to obsessively organize and double check if doors are locked and the oven is turned off. It gets worse when he starts to stress about his looks and sexual identity.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Brent, who is homophobic (despite possibly being gay himself) and ridiculing of Rahul's Indian heritage.
    • Vinay Uncle, who makes not-so-veiled remarks about Rahul's sexuality.
    • The directors of the bank commercial Rahul auditions for bluntly explain that Rahul wasn't the right "type" of actor they were looking for, despite having a open casting call looking for boys 12-14 for a white family they already cast.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The climax of the book is at the International Bazaar and Rahul decides to wear his white kurta there. From there, he stands for himself against Brent and participates in a mini Holi celebration with the rest of the Bazaar goers and from there the kurta is stained colorfully, like a rainbow (the LGBT pride symbol), meshing together both his identities.