Reading a book is about what happens (the plot) and who it happens to (the characters).
We might also think about where and when the story takes place (the setting and context).
Sometimes, we also notice that the story seems to be about a subject, for example, the problems that characters have because they are growing up. It might even have a message, such as: 'It is good to be kind to people'. We call these the ideas of the book, or the themes.
Themes tend to be the topics that we, as readers, can relate to in one way or another. They are the 'stuff of real life' such as loneliness or courage, or how acts of good and evil affect us.
Writers tend to write about the issues they know about, either because of events in their own lives, or what they notice and feel about the world around them.
Meera Syal grew up in a village like Tollington (which is a made-up place). She was a child of Indian immigrant parents, living in a mostly white British mining village in the Midlands. We can already see similarities between real Meera, and fictitious Meena! It is reasonable to think that some of the ideas in the novel came from her own experiences.
In this activity, we will identify the themes of the novel.
You should always refer to your own copy of the book when working through the activities. The quotations are for reference only.