Young Adult – Monsoon Summer

Jasmine Gardiner – more commonly known as Jazz- is looking forward to her summer break. Sure, things are starting to become awkward around Steve, her long-time friend and business partner for whom she has developed an unrequited, but intense, crush, but all that time off means that she will get to hang out with him more at their teen-run business. But then her mother – the eternal Good Samaritan – gets the grant she’s been hoping for, one that will let her start up a clinic in rural India at the orphanage where she was born. Jazz is not thrilled to discover that the entire family will be spending the summer in India. 

Part of the reason Jazz has such a hard time with the transition is that she sees herself as everything her mother is not. Where her mother is constantly helping other people, Jazz hates interacting with others, and her one and only attempt to help someone ended in an unmitigated disaster that continues to haunt her years later. She has long since resigned herself to the fact that some people just aren’t cut out to be helpers. Spending an entire summer at an Indian orphanage is akin to torture, even if the teenage girl they’ve hired to help them out seems to have the makings of a great friend.

Jazz’s growth over the course of the book is gradual and realistic. Reading the book, I felt that it was not quit as polished as some of the author’s other books (such as the excellent and amazing Rickshaw Girl). The fact that Jazz is afraid to try helping others for fear the same situation will result is announced again and again, such that it loses some of its subtlety, and the “am I really pretty? I never saw myself that way…” subplot is a standard trope of Young Adult literature. On the other hand, it’s a common subplot for a reason, as many teens are genuinely surprised to learn that not everyone sees them as they see themselves, and that we are often our own harshest critics.

Most of the characters are extremely believable, and the emotion of the story is heartfelt. I liked that it was not just Jazz that changed and grew over the course of the story, but her other family members as well. Acknowledging that adults are also capable of change is something that many teens, and the authors who write for them, sometimes forget. I also liked the business aspects of the story, as Jazz reflects on the business she’s built with her friend Steve, and the problems and challenges Danita faces in trying to establish her own small business. The book was very engaging, leaving the reader wondering what would happen next, and rooting for Jazz  and her new friend Danita to make the right decisions.

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