Saturday, June 16, 2012


Imagine you are fifteen-years-old and have been engaged since you were a child of three.  That is the situation of Shalini, the main character in Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani.  All of her life Shalini has loved her fiance and best friend, Vikram.  She knows that someday they will marry--their parents arranged it when they were toddlers, after all--but her whole life is turned upside down when her father gets a lucrative job in the United States and transplants his family from Bangalore, India to Los Angeles, California.  Culture shock is a given. While Shalini's younger sister starts fitting in immediately, Shalini has a harder time, though not as hard a time as her mother, who falls into a deep depression.  Everything is different and Shalini is adrift.  Her best clothes from India are nothing but a laughingstock in America.  (I actually winced reading the description of the outfits she and her sister wear on her first day of high school:  "a blouse and skirt that had been sewn together, banded at the waist with a belt.  The shirt had an eyelet collar, pearl buttons down the front, and long sleeves. The skirts came down below our knees.  We were both wearing skin-colored panty hose, through which, if you looked closely enough, you could see the hair on our legs, flattened against our skin.  Our shoes, bought just for the trip, were identical, black leather with small heels, silber buckles on the front.") Oh, dear.  Yes, things do not go well for Shalini at first in her L.A. high school.  In one particularly cruel moment, a girl from the popular clique dresses as Shalini, in full mockery, for Halloween.  This novel really nails culture shock and bigotry.  But as time goes by, Shalini begins to adjust, and then her world is again turned upside down--when she begins to develop feelings for a boy other than Vikram.

This is a very good choice for a multicultural novel.  The reader gets a good sense of Indian culture.  I enjoyed it though I do have to say that one of the drawbacks is the fact that Shalini is such a good girl.  I certainly didn't expect her to go hog wild, but it goes without saying that main characters who take risks are a more interesting read than main characters who are obedient, well-behaved young women. It would have been unrealistic for Shalini to turn into a juvenile delinquent, and the changes she makes in herself as she adjusts to her new life in America, are certainly "rebellious" by her culture's standards, but they are not overly   rebellious by American standards.  So, parts of this novel could have been a little more active, but over all, the conflict Shalini faces between her Indian life and engagement and her new American life with its possibilities for romantic exploration, is an intriguing one.

1 comment:

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