A tale of teenage angst set in an urban contemporary milieu holds the reader’s attention.
Revathi Suresh’s Young Adult debut novel has no vampires but the author’s fascinating narrative of teenage angst, set in a contemporary urban milieu, holds the reader’s interest. What is it to be a moody, modern teen in a rather unstable family living in a metro?
Kaavya, the chief protagonist and voice of the book, is 16 and Barbie-phobic. She has a young brother named Dhrittiman, a brat who is her bane as well as responsibility, and whom she terms ‘Dirtyman’. Their parents live apart, and both Kaavya and Dirtyman don’t go to school. That’s where the whole difference begins, and their apartment complex ostentatiously named ‘Grand Canyon’ is full of ‘normal’ folk; kids who at least pretend to go to school, and have a hectic social life. And there are a lot of tales floating around about Kaavya’s family and life, but the ‘normal’ reader is pacified by the fact that the duo does prepare for exams by private study and, in short, appear better prepared for Life. Kaavya and Dirtyman deal with a mom who is depressed, strict, irresponsible and alone, a father who has lost contact with them, and an aunt and uncle who are also ‘different’. Oh, and Kaavya has dimples, handed down from her Dad.
Kaavya also seems to have some friends, but whether they are friends or not is a story to be read through and the whole episode of Kaavya’s narrative starts with a ‘Manisha Day’, her memories of her first-ever friend. What happened to Manisha is also one of the threads that keeps the book live. Kaavya’s life oscillates between ‘bad Manisha days’ and her wish for ‘good Kiran days’, the latter being a boy in the same neighbourhood on whom she and a whole lot of other girls have a crush. Kaavya has this overwhelming feeling that she doesn’t belong to any of these worlds and, in trying to be ‘normal’, is caught in a labyrinth of apparently meaningless activity which seems to spin circles round her. I will stop short of the spoilers that threaten to leap in any moment.
The book is certainly slice-of-life, and showcases difficult relationships within families, between friends, among neighbours and exams and issues that every city teen transcends in a routine day. But what lifts it above the ordinary is the voice. Revathi scores high with the voice, it’s just right. The reader only needs to climb on to the narrative wagon and ride along with Kaavya; not once does the tone or mood stray away from that of a confused 16-year-old. It stays amazingly on track, right down to the vocabulary of even teen thoughts.
What’s more interesting is the grip the book has on the attention of all age groups. While teenage readers are sure to identify with the situations and stresses of a contemporary ruthless world, adult readers will find themselves hooked to the story too. So are the rest of the characters, helped on by Facebook, chat, mail, text speak and Kate Perry songs and a lot of social activity, both virtual and real. Kaavya’s thoughts reach out to you from the pages of JCR with a wry humour and matter-of-fact tone that makes you laugh out loud; her vocabulary is surprisingly profound for a kid who doesn’t go to school; it’s amusing and exact for the observations she likes to make of Life as she sees around her. The totally non-didactic quality of the writing as it deals with the issues of adolescent anguish engages the reader right through the 173 pages of the book. What a relief to find an author who doesn’t talk down to you.
Just one fact stops me giving JCR a five star rating: the ending. It’s a case for spoilers again, if I detail the reasons for this. Definitely, a book to read more than once.