Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger 2010
IQ "I felt his arms tighten around me. I dropped my head back against his shoulder and stared up into the sky. This time I knew what he was talking about. The stars. they were like a thousand suns. And at night, that's what they felt like, little pricks prodding everyone to do what's deep down inside, and not worry about anyone or anything else. They were like a veil, letting the secret part of you be heard-the part you kept shut and quiet under the harsher light of the daytime sun." pgs. 142-143
Jasbir (aka Jazz) is a great student, an obedient daughter and a good friend. She's in the Future Stars and Leaders (FSL) program which is for the smartest of students and everything seems to be going well. One day, after school, Jazz is seen hugging one of her best friends, Jeeves. This gets back to her mother who decides that it's time for the Guided Dating Plan. The Guided Dating Plan consists of looking through headshots of 'suitable' Indian boys and picking out which ones Jazz wants to meet. Jazz doesn't want to meet any of them, but she picks one to make her mama happy and he's (Mit) not at all what she (or her parents) expect. Jazz then proceeds to develop a crush on a very unsuitable boy (i.e. not Indian enough, West Indian). It's junior year and in addition to her new crush, Jazz begins to make some unusual decisions, specifically revolving around her Auntie Kinder who's ex husband is abusive. It's going to be a very different year.
The Incredible Quote I shared features a good way of describing how different it can feel to stare at the stars. One of the most inspiring things can be a night sky full of stars and it can lead people to self-reflect and do things they might not normally do. This book is almost like the veil letting the secret part be seen. It seems to be some kind of secret that teens of color want chick lit and contemporary fiction that isn't SO INTENSE ALL THE TIME. The stories of tough neighborhoods, alcoholism, drug use, abusive parents, etc. are vital for ALL teens to read. But it's nice to be able to relax and just read about a teen who happens to be a teen of color, living life. That is why I love this book. Yes Jazz has additional troubles of having very tradition Indian parents who are secretly planning out her marriage, but she also has crush troubles like everyone else and like many teen girls today has to deal with parents who don't want her to date. Jazz isn't trying to constantly rebel against her parents or complaining about them, she just wants a little more freedom to have a crush on whoever and to be able to act on her feelings.
Bonus points for Jazz having a crush on Tyler R., who is West Indian (yes a two-culture [bicultural?] romance!). The author introduces a bit of tension that exists between West Indians and Indians but it doesn't overwhelm the reader with details, it's very succinct. While not all readers have to deal with ethnic cultural pressures, we all have to deal with feeling like an outsider and being true to ourselves, the whole coming-of-age deal. "But did it take courage to just keep doing what you're told, without asking any questions? Did it take a different level of courage to not love the person you loved, and do what was considered appropriate-as Auntie Kinder had done? Or to pretend you were something you weren't-like what Mit was doing?" (pg. 105). At times Jazz in Love threatens to be overwhelmed by a second plotline, one involving Auntie Kinder and her abusive ex. I didn't mind all the time, since that plotline kept me feverishly turning the pages, afraid that Jazz's plan would blow up and hoping, hoping that it would all work out. The story with Auntie Kinder has an 'aww' factor (it's never too late for true love), but it does at times, overshadow Jazz and Tyler. Tyler only seemed to come up when it was convenient, sometimes he was pushed aside (and at the most inopportune times!) and I wanted more from him because he was cute and a bit of jerk but he had some family drama that needed to be explored.
Jazz in Love is a splendid read, perfect for those readers who think the only books about poc are 'problem' novels. It's also an essential read for those who like excellent contemporary novels, it's not issue driven. There are some issues underlying this book, but they do not take over the book. At the heart, this book is about being in-like, having a crush and navigating those treacherous waters while not neglecting your family and friends. It's also about deciding how far you will go to make your family happy. The treatment of GLBT people in ethnic communities is addressed as are other unique difficulties to growing up Indian in America. For the most part (more Tyler details!), the major and secondary characters (Auntie Kinder and Dr. Babaloo) are well-thought out, three dimensional. The Jeeves storyline reads like the same old story but it completely surprised me. It was so nice to see the strong friendship between Cindy and Jazz, no guy drama, no self-esteem issues that could ruin their friendship. Their friendship is a strong one and it was lovely to read about. A sequel is a necessity I think (well not really since this book stands strongly on its own but a sequel would be nice). I want to see more of Jazz, Jeeves, Tyler and Cindy.
Disclosure: I may or may not have Tweeted my excitement to my small world when I found out I was in the acknowledgements (ahhhh!!). Received for review, thank you Ignite Books :D
PS Another favorite quote "I decided, right then and there, that I would do anything-anything at all-to have what I was feeling right this moment, as a permanent part of my life. How could a person marry someone not knowing if they'd ever feel like this in their arms, on the hood of a car? So many kids in the world got to do this without hiding it. Without being afraid that someone would immediately force them into a marriage they didn't want if they ever got caught. I liked this feeling. It was huge like the sky above us, and I wanted to follow it to see where it led." (pg. 141)
PS One of my favorite reviewers and all around people in the history of the world, The Rejectionist reviewed Jazz in Love today over here and the equally fantastic Zetta has an interview with Neesha Meminger. AND the spectacular Edi has an interview with Neesha and a giveaway (!)