'Anita and Me'
by Meera Syal
This is a modern novel, first published in 1996. However, the story is set further back in the past, around 1972. The main character is Meena - the 'Me' of the title: at the start of the novel she is nine and is feeling out of place in her family, and in her village.
As a year passes and she recalls a mixture of everyday and dramatic experiences, we follow Meena as she learns more about her life and her own values as she starts to grow up and understand the people around her.
The novel includes a rich cast of characters. Their stories may create humour, or sadness, or a mixture of both. In the same way, they may show love, tough love, or anger and even abuse.
Our first job as readers, and students studying the novel, is to have a clear idea of who's who, and their importance in Meena's story.
Firstly, we learn about the characters from Meena's point of view. She is the narrator of the story and we see everyone the way Meena sees them. However, because we bring our own knowledge and experiences to our reading, we may have a different understanding and not see people in the same way that Meena does. We can 'read between the lines' at times and see motives that are beyond Meena's knowledge at that stage of her growing up.
A good way to get to know the characters and their role in the novel is to map out what they say, what they do, note their attitudes and beliefs, and if they change in any way through the novel.
In this activity, we will identify the characters in the novel and examine what makes them important to Meena.
You should always refer to your own copy of the book when working through the activities. The quotations are for reference only.