Synopsis from Goodreads.
Mira Levenson is bursting with excitement as she flies to India to stay with her aunt and cousin for the first time. As soon as she lands Mira is hurled into the sweltering heat and a place full of new sights, sounds, and deeply buried family secrets . . . From the moment Mira meets Janu she feels an instant connection. He becomes her guide, showing her both the beauty and the chaos of Kolkata. Nothing is as she imagined it – and suddenly home feels a long way away.
The number of British YA books I read last year was shocking and this made me sad because when I grow up [I’ll get there…eventually] I want to be an author.
And I’m, well, I’m British.
So why wasn’t I making more of an effort to read and review books by British authors? I should be proudly waving the Union Jack and thrusting British books at unsuspecting people while I making them cups of tea and whinging about the weather.
While in a queue… in a Kate mask… munching on Yorkshire Pudding.
So I made it one of my New YA Resolutions.
Sometime last year there was a sale on e-books on Amazon and my favourite thing about their sales are that the majority of the books that feature are British authors and I find so many books that I would never even think about reading!
Like Sita Brahmachari’s Artichoke Hearts.
I read the synopsis and thought “Aw, that really sounds cute. A bit different and HEY Ms Brahmachari is British. Hurrah! Hurrah!”
So I bought it. I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t really expect much from it. It wasn’t that it looked bad but it just didn’t look like the kind of book that would grip me.
Ha ha haaa.
Oh how wrong I was because I looooooved it so much. Mira, our twelve year old narrator, had such a fresh and realistic outlook on life and I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. Add in a handful of fantastic characters and a wonderfully British setting, Artichoke Hearts was one of my favourite reads of 2011.
Jasmine Skies was even better.
The story picks up two years after the events of Artichoke Hearts and sees Mira travelling to Kolkata to visit her cousin Priya after the death of her Grandad Bimal.
I’m going to try and stay away from talking about the plot of this story because I don’t want to spoil either of these books and it would be impossible to talk go into it without doing so. Apologies if this reviews ends up being a bit vague as I know you’re used to the most in-depth and intellectual reviews on my bit of t’internet.
I just love how Ms Brahmachari writes. I’m trying to think of a way to articulate the way I feel about it but I’m failing miserably. If I could describe it using only one word, I would use ‘vibrant’.
Seriously, I underlined so many passages on my Kindle it became silly.
The setting of this book is immaculately imagined. I’ve never been to India but I could really relate to the experience of being overwhelmed that Mira feels when she first steps off the plane. The descriptions of the market places are absolutely magnificent. You’ve got the colours of the materials, the feel of the sweltering heat and… yes, fine, you can almost smell the… *scowls*…jasmine.
It’s obvious that Ms B has a story to tell and a message to convey but it never felt clunky or heavy-handed. Mira’s journey, both physical and emotional, is told with brilliant subtlety and restraint and it was so glorious to read. Anyone who says that YA books can’t be deep are going to get a hardcover of this book slammed across the back of their head by moi.
Luckily, Mira hasn’t changed one jot since Artichoke Hearts. She’s still compassionate, funny and as inquisitive as ever. One of my favourite things about AH was how Mira struggled with her identity as a mixed-race girl growing up in Britain, so I was ecstatic when I got about two chapters into Jasmine Skies and realised that there was going to be more of that.
“Not being able to speak Bengali makes me feel like I’m trying to cross a bridge but can only get so far, because to reach the other side it’s not just the words you need to understand, but also the tones and colours; the way of thinking and seeing the world that are all locked inside the languages.”
This is why contemporary is my favourite genre and why I get so giddy when I discover one that I haven’t read yet. I’m not a mixed race girl living in Britain but I found Mira so easy to relate to because her problems were real. There wasn’t a werewolf trying to get into her pants or anything, but Ms B’s writing shows that if you can work your way around a teenage girl’s emotions and thoughts then you don’t need all that stuff to write a compelling and beautiful book.
I just adore Mira; she’s such a fantastic character with such a pure heart. I just want to be her best friend or, like, her cool* older sister or something. I’d probably even let her personalise all of my shoes.
Possibly, I’m not entirely sure I’m convinced by bedazzled footwear.
Mira’s search for her identity and where she fit in actually really reminded me of Josie from Looking for Alibrandi. I know, I know. I just invoked the power of Double M, but I’m sticking with it. There is just something so wonderful to me about books where characters delve into their heritage and their culture, asking questions and digging up secrets that people thought were buried for good. Maybe it’s because I love sitting with my grandparents and listening to their stories… I don’t know why, but I just love it.
“I think these stories about where you come from and the history of your own family help you to see where you stand in the world.”
“I nod at him and look down, down, down to the crater below, swirling with dust.
‘What is that?’ I ask him.
‘History…takes time to settle.”
I have to get something off my chest.
Now I don’t want to go into it too much into this next bit because of spoilery badtimes but, gosh, way to throw a spanner into the works, Ms B! That bit… with the jasmine… and homespun …and the pony tail. Yeah, you know which bit I mean.
My poor, poor heart. I understand but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.
WHYYYY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!?
I know where my loyalty lies, Mira. That’s all I’m saying.
This will make no sense to anyone who hasn’t read this book and even less sense to people who haven’t read Artichoke Hearts, but some things just need to be said.
I have a lot of emotions regarding that bit that I will keep bottled up until you’ve all read both of these books (which you will be doing, right?!) and then I will unleash the feelings.
And that ending?!?! Are you kidding me? Looking at the glorious cover and reading the wonderful synopsis you wouldn’t expect it to have a cliff-hanger, would you?
Well you would be wrong.
WHEN IS THE NEXT BOOK OUT?!
I am emotionally invested in these characters now and I will fight tooth and nail to get the next book. Tooth and nail, guys, TOOTH AND NAIL.
I know in our YA circles, it’s pretty much a given that the Aussies are at the forefront of the contemporary race, but I believe that with both Artichoke Hearts and now Jasmine Skies, Ms Brahmachari has shown that us Brits shouldn’t be disregarded just yet.
Additional Fun Things.
So in Jasmine Skies, Mira’s cousin Priya is the coolest kid in Kolkata and she’s an underground DJ who wears skinny jeans and is the best dancer in the whole of India. Cool, yes?
Anyway, in this interview Sita Brahmachari talks to Nihal Arthanayake [Listeners of Radio 1 or BBC Asian Network may know who he is!] as part of her research into what kind of music Priya would be listening to. It’s really fascinating.
*May or may not be cool.