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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #14 (April 5, 2005), page 15.
Good deeds, good read
By Mitali Perkins
Delacorte Press, 2004
Hardcover, 257 pages, $15.95
By Josephine Bridges
Fifteen-year-old Jasmine "Jazz" Gardner has two dilemmas, one common and one very unusual. In the first place, she’s begun to have more than friendly feelings for her best buddy and business partner. In the second place, she’s spending the summer in India, where her mother plans to set up a pre-natal clinic at the orphanage where she grew up. Jazz has the deepest admiration for her mother’s philanthropy, but an unfortunate incident in which her trust was betrayed has convinced the teenager that she should keep her distance from charitable impulses. Jazz is an unforgettable protagonist, and Monsoon Summer is a strong and eccentric novel.
"Our friendship might have survived if I’d fallen in love with someone else. But no. I had to fall in love with him. Steven Morales himself — who’d once been the kid I wrestled every day of second grade." The wry humor with which Jazz narrates Monsoon Summer makes it an easy read, though the novel fairly brims with big lessons about life. Here’s Jazz on the body she finds so troublesome: "In a certain type of bathing suit (which I’d never wear in a trillion years), I could easily pass for one of those old-fashioned movie stars from the 1950s — the ones with round hips and big, pointy brassiere cups." Her take on the gated community in which her paternal grandparents reside made me laugh out loud: "The code changed every week, keeping residents busy trying to figure out how to get in and out of their own neighborhood."
Jazz has a quirky family. Her parents have never owned a car. Her little brother Eric not only collects insects but sits in the back of the family’s rented van "taking his bugs out one by one, humming songs to them, telling them the current top ten fourth-grade jokes in a quiet voice." The devotion these family members feel toward one another and the kindness they show one another are both believable and inspiring. Jazz has some great friends too, particularly Danita, the wise and talented teenage orphan who cooks for Jazz’s family, shores up her new friend’s self-confidence, and inspires the protagonist to give good deeds another chance.
Monsoon Summer is drenched with lush description of India, where it starts to rain just after Jazz arrives, "hot, steaming rain that fell in sheets," and where she is "bombarded with scents — sandalwood, goat skin, sour yogurt, musk oil, frying fish, and again and again, the delicate aroma of jasmine flowers adorning a vendor’s stall or woven into a woman’s hair."
Mitali Perkins, whose name means "friendly" in Bengali, was born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, and lived in Ghana, Cameroon, England, and Mexico before settling in the United States. Also the author of The Sunita Experiment, she maintains a website called "The Fire Escape: Books For and About Young Immigrants," a topic on which she may well be an expert.
To learn more, visit <www.mitaliperkins.com>.