Posted on 15 August, 2017 by Crystal

Please welcome Sonia Patel to Rich in Color today. Her newest book, Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story, will be available next month. We really enjoyed Rani Patel in Full Effect, her debut last year, and are looking forward to this new release.


Keep it real or you might die. Sound extreme? Let me explain this short but profound sentence I often use to help struggling teens in my child and adolescent psychiatry practice. I’ll start by breaking it down into two parts.

Keep it real = Determine your true thoughts and feelings in the moment and speak up for yourself in all honesty.
Or you might die = If you stay quiet and believe the negative automatic thoughts, feelings, and risky impulses that your mind is tricking you with then you might be more likely to go through with the risky impulses (suicide attempts, accidental excessive drug/alcohol use, unprotected sex, etc.) because there doesn’t seem to be any other way out of the intolerable swirl of chaos in your mind.

Obvious? Not to everyone, especially not to vulnerable teens. These are the pained teens—from all walks of life—I have the honor of treating. These are the teens who have a genetic predisposition to an emotional illness (such as depression or anxiety), have lived through trauma, or have dysfunctional family systems—or all three. These teens are more likely to remain silent about the unwanted, false, automatic negative thoughts, feelings, and impulses that plague them. For different reasons, these teens aren’t taught to speak up about, tolerate, or cope with all the negativity. This silent suffering becomes their invisible “teacher” and they learn to act out on their self-destructive impulses. Soon the only way they know how to minimize emotional distress is to act out with dangerous behaviors. It may become hardwired into their brains.

I value meaningful talk therapy as the foundation of my psychiatric treatment to teens. It is my goal to educate them on positive ways to maneuver through life. Over the course of weeks, months, or years we work together to discover how they can become self-aware, how they can say exactly what’s on their mind in any given situation, and how they can ride out the extremes of their negative thoughts, feelings, and impulses.

How they can keep it real so they don’t die.

I strive to be their keep it real coach. There is no better reward than to watch these teens learn to find their voices and be assertive. They become keep it real experts.

I also aim to be a keep it real author. I want to bring this powerful message to as many teens as I can. That is why I write YA novels the way I do—boiled down and raw.

In my office, teens who confide in me don’t speak in perfect prose when they share their innermost thoughts, feelings, impulses, and secrets. They might stumble on their words. They might not be able to find the right words. They might get straight to the point. They might ramble. They might swear. They might cry. They might scream. They might do a combination of all of that. So why would I write their stories in a pretty, elegant way? This is not to say these teens are not intelligent. They are. Some of them read at college level, take A.P. classes, and study hard. They know many big, fancy, SAT words. Those that don’t pursue academics to their full potential are still smart. But what I’ve found is that in the privacy of my office most teens prefer to talk in an informal manner rather than with refined formality. They choose to speak with their broken hearts.

It is with all this in mind that I wrote Rani Patel In Full Effect and the forthcoming Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story. I am excited for the world to meet Jaya and Rasa. They are blends of real patients I’ve had the privilege of treating (I must confess that there are also bits and pieces of me in Jaya!).

The way I write how Jaya experiences things in his life—such as private school, wealth, elitism, modern day Native Hawaiian oppression, lack of acceptance of his gender by his Gujarati Indian parents, bullying by his classmates, depression, self-blame for his parents’ fights, low self-worth, and the unconscious recreation of his parents’ relationships with Rasa—is how many of my patients describe their similar experiences.

The way I write how Rasa maintains a happy front while likening herself to a strong black widow spider is part of her response to trauma. It’s how she’s managed to survive her challenging circumstances. She’s learned to equate her body and sex as power and control over men who are actually abusing her. Under her black widow exterior is a vulnerable girl who hasn’t been given the chance to develop her self-worth or identity apart from being an object for others. She hasn’t had the luxury of a safe life in which her basic needs are met.

Neither Jaya nor Rasa have been taught or encouraged to become self-aware or speak their minds concerning their true thoughts, feelings, and impulses. So they’ve both stayed in their heads trying to survive their respective hardships. Their patterns of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors  become more and more ingrained as the years pass. That is, until they meet each other. The intense love that develops between them forces them to confront the flaws in their internalized ways of functioning in the world. They realize that they have to keep it real or they might die.

Check me out online!


Instagram & Twitter: soniapatel808

Facebook: SoniaPatelAuthor


Why Patel?

I bet you know a Patel.  Patels are everywhere.  Literally.   The Patel diaspora from India is such that there are over 500,000 of them living in countries outside of India (1).  In the United States alone, there are over 145,066 Patels and according to the 2000 U.S. census, the surname ranks 174th on the list of most common surnames in the country (2). And they’re not all related.  

 Most Patels are from the Indian state of Gujarat.  Their is some debate over the exact origin of the Patel surname, but it’s likely the term Patel first referred to village leaders and/or a caste of landowners or farmers in Gujarat.  Nowadays, Patels are involved in many types of professional occupations ranging from doctors to lawyers to engineers, though they are most often associated with small business trades, particularly motels and franchises.

Patels immigrate to America for the many of the same reasons as people from other countries.   

For economic opportunities.  For educational opportunities for their children.  For a better life.  My parents were no exception- they immigrated in the early 70’s seeking the American dream.  

If you know a Patel,  it’s probable that you know someone who is hardworking, independent, bent on accumulating wealth, and driven to help their children find educational success.  Whether it’s the Patel motel owner.  The Patel husband and wife 7-11 owners whose tireless dedication to the business allows their two children the opportunities to become Dr. Patel and a Patel engineer.  Steve Zwick gives an interesting account of Patels on Devon Avenue in Chicago, highlighting their roots in Gujarat and their reasons for immigration to the United States (3).  These stories abound, and I’ve been witness to my fair share growing up as a first person on both sides of my family to be born in America.  Stories about the financial triumphs of friends of my parents. Stories of amazing academic achievement of the children of immediate and extended family members.  Stories of the prosperity of unrelated Patels that spread in family gossip like the colored powder on Holi.  

Patels often pay a price when they permanently move away from Gujarat.  The price could be working two jobs with no days to rest.  The price could be difficulty with adjusting to the American culture and language.  It could be discrimination.  The list is long, and not unique to Patel immigrants.  

But, there is something missing from the Patel immigrant story.  Something that casts a long, dark shadow.  Something that I fear many Patels, including myself, haven’t been able to name.  Something we don’t handle because we are so thankful to live in the land of opportunity.  It’s something that crept into the suitcases of our parents as they boarded the Air India flight from Mumbai to London to New York City.  Something that was easily caged or hidden in the cultural confines of Gujarat, where the close knit homogenous social network allowed for good of the whole and the good of the individual.  But, once out of this cultural safety net, the something started it’s slow sabotage.   And some Patels suffered.  Like fish out of water.

I’m sure many Patel immigrants escaped unscathed, and achieved the American dream shielding themselves from the explosive mixture of old and new.  But this wasn’t the experience for a number of the Patels I’ve known.  For although they may have secured some financial stability and perhaps even amassed great wealth, their most intimate relationships broke.   Couples.  Parents and children.  Adult siblings.   From the outside, no one could see the damage, because there might not have been divorce or CPS involvement.  No actual splitting of families.

But I’ve seen the collateral damage.  The problem is that Patels don’t talk about it.  Even as they whisper about rumors in the Patel community or chitchat over chai no one speaks of the long term emotional ramifications of malfunctioning interpersonal relationships in families.  Maybe in Gujarat, the endless social supports from other Patels provided enough cushion to prevent or diminish these negative emotional outcomes, but in the States, I’m sure it’s a different story.  Balancing adjustment to a new culture while trying to hold onto the old culture creates interpersonal relationship strains and situations unheard of in Gujarat. Some Patels weren’t ready.  And perhaps tending to the emotional needs of a spouse or child wasn’t as much of a priority as making it in America.  It’s the breakdown of the interpersonal relationships in some Patel families that I think has profoundly affected the succeeding generations.  Me included.  So much so that I chose the medical speciality of psychiatry, with a focus on children and adolescents, despite being told by several Patels that a psychiatrist is “not a real doctor.”  

One thing I know for sure from my years of helping children, teens, and adults in individual, couples, and family psychotherapy is that the healing process absolutely requires talking truthfully about the elephant in the room.  And that elephant in the room is often some sort of malfunctioning interpersonal relationship issue.  

Since my experience as a Patel was that no one speaks about interpersonal relationship issues, I often wonder how emotionally hurt Patels find healing.  I don’t think they go to psychiatrists.  Plus, there isn’t much out there in fiction or nonfiction about Patel interpersonal relationship issues, particularly in the young adult genre.  Either way, I want to shed light on these interpersonal issues that affect Patels just as much as they affect the families from every culture and nation, immigrant or not.

That’s why I chose the name Rani Patel for the main character in the young adult novel, Rani Patel in Full Effect.  Rani Patel, her parents, and their experiences are based on a subtle alchemy of Patel individuals and families I’ve known and some of the non-Patel teen and family patients I’ve treated.  Rani Desai, Rani Shah, or Rani Amin would not have had the same impact.  

You probably know a Patel.  It is my hope that Rani Patel in Full Effect challenges you to think beyond the Patel stereotypes and truly see their humanity in their family relationship complexities. There might be more than you could’ve imagined going on behind the closed doors of the Patel that you know.

1.Global Gujaratis: Now in 129 Nations. The Economic Times. July 4, 2015.

2.Global Gujaratis: Now in 129 Nations. The Economic Times. July 4, 2015.

3.Zwick, Steve.  Who Are All These Patels? Chicago Reader.  February 10, 2000.




For Teenagers...

If your mind says you are worthless, or makes you repeat the past, or predict the future, tell it to shut up. It's probably tricking you into staying in some false sense of repetitive security. You are strong despite your circumstances. 

Why this child & adolescent psychiatrist writes...


We both watch the rain pepper the glass of the large window overlooking the east Honolulu mountains—this sixteen-year-old girl and me. We’re in my tiny office. She’s sitting on the black leather sofa across from me.  And after many weeks of Friday appointments, she’s just revealed that her mother left her alone in the middle of Ala Moana when she was five. And never came back. The only other person who knows about this is her father. Fortunately, he’s been kind and attentive to her.  Unfortunately, she’s been plagued with low moods and constant negative thoughts, including thoughts of wanting to die.

Many more weeks of therapy...

She begins to understand that underneath everything, she’s been blaming herself for her mother's abandonment. She assumed she wasn't good enough for her mother to stay.

She felt worthless.

And all these years, nothing has filled what feels like a giant void in her soul. She's tried many different things to fill the emptiness.



Promiscuous sex.

Drugs and alcohol.

These things have worked temporarily. Until her thoughts of being worthless surface again.

Weeks later still, she begins to comprehend the idea that maybe there is nothing wrong with her. Maybe it wasn’t her fault that her mother left. And that the giant void in her soul was her unresolved grief over her mother’s abandonment.

Next came weeks of learning to appropriately grieve her mother. Build her self-worth. Create a new identity. Make positive self-care decisions.

Learn to love herself as her mother should have loved her.

I am privileged to have the opportunity to guide teens through these kinds of self-discovery journeys. I began writing for many reasons, one of the most important being to perhaps reach out to other teens who struggle with difficult circumstances. Maybe my writing can touch their souls. Help them. Inspire them.

Maybe. Just maybe

The Genesis of Rani Patel.

The rap and slam poems came first.

Out of my experiences.

Out of the experiences of girls and women I know.

Out of the experiences of teens I have treated.

Over the years, the words flowed. The flow turned into a deluge.

When the lyrical waters settled, there she was.

Rani Patel.

An amalgam of female voices.




Rani Patel In Full Effect.