Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins
Delacorte Press/Random House
IQ "But the line had gone dead, I walked home replaying our conversation, sheltered in the privacy of my umbrella. What had those missing words been? If only the connection had stayed clear! Now the words were drifting in outer space somewhere, and I'd never find out what they were." Jasmine pgs. 110-111
Jazz Gardner has a great business going with her best friend, Steve Morales (a guy she's secretly in love with), they sell Berkley Memories and their business is doing quite well. Unfortunately (or is it?) for them both, Jazz's mom wins a grant for her and the family to travel to India and set up a women's clinic near the orphanage where Jasmine's mom was adopted from. Jazz doesn't want to go not just because she doesn't want to leave Steve but because she's not a big fan of volunteer work (after all how do you know the person you're helping really needs help?). Jazz doesn't have a cell-phone or a laptop so she will have to rely on rare long-distance phone calls with Steve and hope that he won't start dating another girl. Jazz is not, however prepared for the madness and magic of monsoon season in India, the countryside is lush and the people are a bit crazy but crazy isn't always bad.
Something that's really starting to get on my nerves about girls in books is when they constantly complain about their bodies (which I get believe, I hate my body) but then there are AT LEAST 2-3 guys interested in them. In Jazz's case, she goes to a dance club and every guy wants to dance with her and I understand that before that she thought she was ugly but after that she should have felt way better about herself. And yet she continued to believe she was ugly, it especially pained me that she thought that because she was tall. I really don't think a person's height should affect how good they feel about themselves. It was hard for me to relate to Jazz though because she's not a 'do-gooder' and while I don't do all I can to help people, volunteering is a huge part of my life so it was hard for me to fathom someone so dead set against it, even after her motive is explained. Plus who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to visit India? Yes it would be tough being without technology (I'm spending 10 days in Guatemala with no phone and I think I'm already going into withdrawal and I haven't left yet....) but this is a chance for Jazz to see a new country, learn more about her heritage and make a 'small' difference. I was sympathetic though to her being worried that Steve would start crushing on a girl while she was away. I can definitely empathize. But I was a bit peeved that Jasmine was 'in love' with Steve at the age of fifteen. *sigh*
Steve was an one-dimensional crush (well Jazz would say his flaw is that he's too nice/too caring) and that made it hard for me to take him seriously, but the other characters were well-drawn, especially members of Jazz's family and that made me happy. Granted Jazz was spending the summer with her family in close quarters so they needed to be described in great detail but I liked that their personalities were shown through their actions or Jazz's observations, not just Jazz talking to the reader. I also loved that a rich girl character we are introduced to wasn't a complete brat, she shows that she's privileged but she's nice to Jazz and as someone who is tired of the rich-girl-is-a-bully storyline I really appreciated the character. Jazz starts out the book being quite selfish so that makes her transformation all the more sweet to read about and Jazz isn't whiny selfish, she's just very cautious which leads to her being selfish. Reading about Jazz slowly opening up to the wonder and madness of monsoon season in India is cheering and India is described with resplendent detail, especially the scenes where Jazz describes the marketplace and Karthak dance.
Monsoon Summer's magic lies in reading about Jazz's maturing, it's a truly captivating coming-of-age because I wasn't always sure she would come around. *Spoiler: highlight to read* Is it selfish/mean of me to say that I was happy this story didn't turn into a miraculous meeting between Jazz's mom and her biological parents? That would have been incredible but not very realistic *End of spoiler* This is an absolutely perfect summer read since it's deep but I didn't drown in the depth and there are enough light-hearted moments that the story is entertaining. It's interesting to read about Jazz's struggle to balance two very different standards of beauty, American standards and Indian standards. The author shows the ridiculous American (thin is everything) and Indian ideas (dark skin=bad) of beauty that are ingrained in the respective cultures and how they hurt girls in both cultures. And as much as I thought Steve was unrealistic, he's still adorable and a great friend. Danita was my favorite character because how can you not like someone whose a hard-worker and is determined to keep her family together, even when the monsoon affects her and makes her almost-agree to something crazy? Jazz's parents are in my top ten favorite parents in YA because not only are they vividly present but they go on a date night. And Jazz treats her parents like human beings. *Happy sigh* Read this book for the setting of India and one of the most rewarding coming-of-age stories in YA. Plus the food sounds phenomenal.
Disclosure: Received as part of Goodreads BookSwap
*I will be in Guatemala with no Internet access from June 10-20. All emails/comments will be answered upon my return.