Book review – Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson

IMG_20180319_154643.jpg

I found Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson in the book fair and promptly grabbed it. The book was on my list of books (and author) to explore though I am well past the age the book is intended for. What can I say my inner child/teen continues to live on. I have a few other books by her too but this was the one that beckoned me. You know how it is. Some books you have had for ages but they sit on shelves for eons before they get read and a new book catches your eye and gets instantly picked up (I can almost hear all the old books grumble at the newcomer who made it with the least sweat. Unfair life is even books know that!). I can never understand how the timing works. I guess our subconscious knows what it wants at a certain point in life and goes for it.

Violet is naive (annoyingly so!) for a 13 year old. The book was published in 2003 and that’s got something to do with it, I think. It was the time when cellphones weren’t ubiquitous yet and people still wrote letters to authors instead of stalking them or talking about/to them online. Violet adores reclusive author Casper Dream, the author of the beautifully illustrated fairy books and writes to him regularly. She loves the fictitious universe created by him. She draws inspiration from his books and sews fairy dolls.  As you can see she isn’t your boisterous teen but quiet and artistic. Midnight offers interesting insights into the mind of a writer and on creating imaginary worlds which appealed to me greatly.

Violet has two ‘friends’ but she can’t identify with them. Whereas her brother Will is good looking and the entire school thinks he is cool. She looks up to him and adores him in spite of his snide comments and rudeness. Violet and Will are only a few years apart. It is apparent he cares for Violet but he never let’s a chance to take the Mickey out of her go.

Their father doesn’t like Will’s choices, and he in turn is constantly at loggerheads with him. We see Will after he knows a distrubing secret so there could be something to Will’s recklessness. Will is an intriguing character but I was always wary of him. Their mother is a docile woman and allows her husband to run roughshod over her. He’s taken for granted that his wife will do her job, regardless of how he treats her.

Violet’s life changes when the new girl in the school, Jasmine, who cares two hoots about fitting in, takes a shine to her. She cannot believe her luck. She adores everything about Jasmine – her spirit, her house and her family. Best friends fall in love with each other. It is an intense little place and I know that space well. Violet is an oddball whereas Jasmine is a popular kid. Is Jasmine truly her friend or something else is going on?

As I read I felt uneasy about certain things and I can hazard a guess as to how my teenage self would have reacted. The writing is good and the author is magnificent at building an atmosphere. Though at the heart of the story is Violet, a girl obsessed with fairies and fairy stories and the author who writes them, it’s not for younger readers. People expecting fantasy would be disappointed. This is as real as it gets for the intended age group!  I thought it was clever how subtly the  author showed bitter realities of the world which won’t affect younger readers but older readers will see it for what it is.

I like the quirky illustrations by Nick Sharratt which match the dark tone of the book.

Continue reading “Book review – Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson”

Advertisements

Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

IMG_20180212_170614.jpg

I loved Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth and I have come to expect lyrical prose and magical realism in her work. I am not a fan of magical realism as such but hers I gobble up like a plate of hot Top Ramen noodles (read the fragrance of childhood). Poetry, magic, fate everything I have never understood and can’t put into words, Alice Hoffman does it with ease like she has done it all her life, which she has, but it always takes me by surprise.

I usually steer clear of misery or negativity in pop culture unless I think I can handle it. And Alice Hoffman should be read when you can handle her prose. Her words pierce your soul. She wrings out emotions and feelings you never thought you had. The storyline is easy to follow but the themes are weighty. The Ice Queen deals with matters of life and death and everything in between that constitutes the business of living. She writes fairy tales for adults but don’t be fooled into thinking that it would be simple or straightforward.

I took the book with me when I was travelling but somehow I could sense it wasn’t the place for it and I read very little. And I didn’t want to read the book at breakneck speed because I wanted to inhabit the words of this book until I absorbed its essence.

Like many reviewers I agree there isn’t an extra word in The Ice Queen. She covers so much in 211 pages. It is a sentimental tale but the ending is unpredictable. At the centre of the story is an unlikeable protagonist – the unnamed narrator, who is a librarian and a lightning survivor. Something happened when she was a child and and she has allowed it to colour her entire life. Lightning has always fascinated me but this scared me, the damage it can do to your system if you have the misfortune to be struck by it. Her character changes in a fundamental way and she sees herself differently by the time the book ends and so did I. Alice Hoffman makes you feel for her and in spite of everything you root for her. Deep down we are all dreamers.

The Ice Queen is a book about life and death, and about love and hate. It is a book about secrets and their power to define us if we let them.

Secrets are only knowledge that hasn’t yet been uncovered… Therefore, they are not in fact secrets but only unrealized truth.

The Ice Queen is about all kinds of love – love between siblings (blood ties can’t be so easily dismissed), love between people who have survived the same thing, love between people who are married and their lives tied together in ways unimaginable and love that remains even when the object of affection has vanished into thin air. (Not literally true but I wanted to use it because I am feeling theatrical today!)

Feel lucky for what you have when you have it. Isn’t that the point? Happily ever after doesn’t mean happy forever. The ever after, what precisely was that? Your dreams, your life, your death, your everything. Was it the blank space that went on without us? The forever after we were gone?

The Ice Queen tells me things find their own way to fruition if it’s meant to be. And to have an open heart and appreciate the present. Nothing I didn’t know but how many of us actually live fully in the present?

Continue reading “Thoughts on The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman”

Of letters and epistolary connections

Writing letters was quite common during my grandparents time when telephones weren’t ubiquitous and very few households had it. They wrote letters to each other to apprise each other of the happenings in their lives. They speak very fondly of those days, of waiting for a letter. They didn’t see each other for months and it was letters that connected them to each other, bridging the distance effortlessly. Look at us with our smartphones, connected on multiple platforms but still there’s something missing. In saying too much too often we are perhaps missing the point.

We are surrounded by words, we use words to connect with others on social media and on the phone. How many people write letters (=epistles) or for that matter long emails in the age of WhatsApps, which is the opposite of instant and needs some time to be responded to. Letters are the epitome of personal. There’s something about the act of writing letters that makes me feel like I’m not a part of this dog-eat-dog world or that I belong to a different time than the one I am living in (my sister says it’s a way of keeping illusions intact and delaying it being shattered by the real world).

Somehow a letter seems less intrusive but more revealing (if you know what I mean you have penpals) than a conversation when you only know the person online. It gives us the liberty to shape and build a narrative we want to present (quite like the image we create on social media) while being true to the self. Online or offline we are always telling our life stories. Also, there is the romance of it, how a letter feels in your hand. It is far more real than an email could ever be. Internet offers us many chances of finding like-minded people and connecting with them but texts can never be as personal as a letter.

The people I write to and who write to me, we have formed a unique bond that surprisingly goes beyond words. Even if communication happens via other channels the letters remain special.

Seeing the handwriting of someone you have never met is very personal but nobody thinks about it because of the way things have always been. Handwriting is a practical tool to write answers and get marks.

Writing to someone you have never met in real life teaches you to have faith beyond  what you see. Pen pals or email pals allow us to escape the tedium of reality without completely endangering ourselves. We think the person on the other side of the table can’t really hurt us. Apparently this is both naïve and idiotic. It can be foolhardy and dangerous if the person on the other side isn’t honest about who he or she is. And finding out later is nothing short of betrayal. Count yourself lucky if it doesn’t result in heartbreak.

Do people write letters in this day and age? They are dying tribe but they do exist. A lot of trust, patience and faith in the universe is required to sustain this habit. In life we get hurt. Our trust is destroyed by people who call themselves our friends (or acquaintances). So how do we sustain such a connection with so many unknowable variables? Is it by believing in the persona created by words but nothing to corroborate the fact in real life? Or something else? It works because we want to make it work and believe what the person on the other side says is true. Other than that, getting letters in the post is a feeling which cannot be described in words.

Did you have a pen pal? What has been your experience like?

 

Not goodbye

As we grow older the number of friends we make decreases and sadly so do the number that stay. When I was in school in each corner lurked a potential friend where now lurks a frenemy (Okay acquaintance. I shouldn’t be so quick to judge!). If you can spot it right from the outset, it will save you from a ton of drama.

Friends of convenience aren’t really friends. I can’t make a sweeping statement that they are no one’s friends. May be they are. The fact of the matter is I am too old for this. Being genuine can’t possibly be so hard. One doesn’t always have to put up an act and play stupid games or be peaceable to stop someone from leaving or worse guilt trip someone into staying. Nearly half my life is gone and my energy reserves are pretty limited. I don’t want to put up with negativity which has no basis in reality and only conspires to bring me down.

People who only look after their agendas, and if your agenda doesn’t match with them, they won’t think twice before dropping you like hot coals, aren’t your friends. In fact they will cross your name from their friend list (=people who always help them and put them first) when they know you are not so handy as you used to be or will not relent because the truth has dawned on you (cliched but true). People change as they grow and I too have changed, but in some ways I remain the same. I am less stubborn than I used to be but in some cases I refuse to budge come hell or high-water.

I am not a fan of simpering smiles and false compliments. I’d rather we had a real conversation or you told me what you really thought of me to my face instead of tearing me to shreds behind my back but smiling benignly when I am in front of you. I might burst into tears or I might enter into a shouting match with you but I will never hate you for telling me your truth. (One of the many perks of growing up is realizing that truth has multiple versions.) People who say what they don’t mean and hide under snide comments are not your friends either. The worst of the lot are the ones who try to gloss over things when they really should be talked about in the open. Continue reading “Not goodbye”

Book review – I Quit! What Now?

Meet Nimisha, the protagonist of Zarreen Khan’s I Quit! What Now? She is a corporate drone (think Ranbir’s character in Tamasha except wittier) and works so hard at her job that she hasn’t had a weekend to herself in a long time. Sounds familiar? She hates her job and the daily grind that comes with the territory. She desperately needs some time off to recharge her batteries and the idea of a sabbatical is planted in her head when her colleague takes one because of her pregnancy. She thinks a sabbatical is the answer to all her problems. But life rarely works as per our plan. She is forced to quit when she isn’t granted a few months off. So she starts off with the list of options typed in her excel sheet, ready to dive in. And we journey with her as she goes through the list, trying things, with hilarious consequences.

Nimisha, fondly called Nimi, lives with her mother and maid. With a distinct personality of her own her maid is one of my favourite characters. Nimi has an elder sister and her nieces adore her. They love the stories she tells them. She has a bunch of friends who keep in touch in spite of their busy lives. Her relationships with friends, family, and office colleagues is portrayed in a real manner and there isn’t a single false note.

Nimi is afraid to make a fool of herself like the rest of us.  But she is a diligent worker who hasn’t more or less caught a break in 8 years and feels unappreciated. No wonder the burnout happened.

Nimisha is a likable protagonist but more than that she is flawed and real, like you and me. Initially I couldn’t connect with the corporate droning but I suspect most  people would identify with it. After that the pace picked up and I couldn’t stop reading. I haven’t worked in a corporate set up so for me it was looking in from the outside. A fresh perspective, and a scary one at that. I cackled at her jokes in the middle of a wintry night. There was a very real chance of waking people up and making them think I was a lunatic. Continue reading “Book review – I Quit! What Now?”

Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

Wild Child and Other Stories contains stories about teens dealing with issues that they grapple with. Paro Anand’s earlier book School Days which I thoroughly enjoyed was about tween’s issues but this one is so much darker because of the themes it deals with. Teens are unruly, difficult and moody but always in the need of love, both tough and tender.

This is an award winning book but why does it have such a bad cover? I mean come on, YA audience is used to being treated better all around the world. So glad it has now been re-released by Penguin India as Like Smoke which has 20 stories.

The title story Wild Child deals with a girl who is always bunking school (I had read an excerpt and decided to buy the book), vanishing somewhere where no one can find her. Intent only on punishing her, the elders make no enquiry or try to find out what is the matter with her. The answer when it comes, sheds light on her behaviour. People who deal with children need to be more aware and open, not to mention perceptive, to catch what is really the matter.

This is Shabir Karam is about children whose parents have been killed in Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Kids from different religions live together in a home but they have no love lost for each other. How children, who have no clue what religion is, are caught in the crossfire of hatred and bigotry will make you very uncomfortable.

Children are vulnerable, yet to form their opinions and adults, who are in a position to influence it, do grave disservice to them when they do it to meet their agenda. It makes children easy targets. Early childhood trauma is not something that can be reversed and their childhood is lost somewhere.

They Called Her ‘Fats’ is about an unruly, unfriendly and angry girl. Fatima has no friends and the children in the school spread vicious rumours about her. It is not only adults but children also fear what they don’t understand, and Fatima doesn’t make it easy for anyone. The sports teacher sees the potential in her when she throws the javelin.

Very few people are lucky to find  something that channelizes what they have inside them. It just takes one person to believe in you. What makes the story riveting is that it has roots in reality.

Santa’s Not So Little Helper is in a lighter vein. A boy who writes a creative writing piece in class about being part of Santa’s family. It is funny and did take me back to my school days but it didn’t quite fit in this collection.

In Jason Jamison and Ia star tennis player with swoon worthy good looks is troubled inside. The perfect exterior is a facade. He is the new boy who defeats the old reigning champion. Looks can be deceiving (quite literally) and friendship can spring up in the oddest of places between unlikeliest of people.

Mixed marriages are taboo in India and it is the worst when it is a foreigner. When the marriage doesn’t work out the family is left in the deep end, shunned by the society. What is the child’s fault? But he or she is the one who has to bear the brunt of it.

Hearing My Own Story talks about abuse that goes on inside the house. Physical and mental abuse is a reality for many married women. They have no clue that they can walk out of their abusive marriages and claim compensation. But the ground reality is murky and in India where marital rape isn’t a crime, women are helpless. The social fabric is at fault. Both people, outside and inside the home tell you to keep mum. 

Like Smoke was gut wrenching but felt short and abrupt. Maybe that is what the author wanted to show, how living in terrorist climes is, with bombing and shooting being everyday affairs. How uncertain and fragile their lives are with the threat of death looming on the horizon.

It makes you think about what is really being done about the situation in Kashmir. The militancy is destroying the lives of so many people, who are easy targets because they refuse to leave their motherland; it is the civilians who are paying the price for the unrest. Continue reading “Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand”

I Kissed a Frog – tales of friendship and love

Rupa Gulab’s I Kissed a Frog is a cool book and I don’t know why I hadn’t heard about it before. Living under a rock the size of Antarctica isn’t the answer, isolation from fellow bookworms is. Not many book nerds around ergo even less bookish discussions because apparently everyone has a life. Sniff. As if I don’t. My idea of living it up is just different from most of y’all.

Never judge a book by its cover or the colour of its cover. Or its title for that matter as it is completely misleading sometimes. I am a woman but I despise Rani Pink and no, you cannot change my mind. It took awhile for me to pick it up because of my reservations. I eyed it warily in the book fair many times before picking it up and reading the blurb, then surreptitiously googling. What! I have loads of unread books and no space to keep them. I have been shallow before and bought books because I loved their covers. What will you do? Disown me and banish me from sisterhood? No can do. Once a woman always a woman (or so I have been told).

Google told me that the reverse fairy tales are supposed to funny, so picked it up, and read them first. They subvert stereotypes sure and these modern fairytales, from Rapunzel to Cinderella, were interesting but they didn’t hold my interest. They were too short to make a real impact but I loved the accompanying cartoons. I would like to read them again, preferably out loud to my sister (that is if she can stand my grating voice and is willing to waste precious time) so that we can both have a good laugh.

The stories in the book are divided into three parts – love, friendship and fairytales. As you know I read them in reverse order.

Continue reading “I Kissed a Frog – tales of friendship and love”