Find it at a local indie!
- Why I read it: India, ZOMG COVER LOVE
- Disclosure: Found a used paperback copy at my local thrift store. I'm poor, what can I say.
Jeeta's family is caught up in the whirlwind of arranging marriages for her two older sisters, but the drama and excitement leave Jeeta cold. Even though tradition demands the parade of suitors, the marriage negotiations and the elaborate displays, sixteen-year old Jeeta wonders what happened to the love and romance that the movies promise? She dreads her turn on the matrimonial circuit, especially since Mummy is always complaining about how Jeeta's dark skin and smart mouth will turn off potential husbands. But when Jeeta's smart mouth and liberal ideas land her in love with her friend's cousin Neel, she must strike a balance between duty to her tradition-bound parents, and the strength to follow her heart.In case you didn't notice, I put the cover image on this one EXTRA BIG because I love it that much. Holy crap. As soon as I saw this cover I knew I was walking out of the store with it. Note to publishers: Mehndi/henna tattoos on covers? Major win. I will spend hours trying to copy the designs on my hands, resulting in cramps, carpal tunnel flare-ups, eye strain, and only moderate success, but much, much dizzy excitement. One last superficial note before I get to the meat of the story - every time I say/hear/think about this title, this incredibly awesome song titled "Koyal (Songbird)" by Nitin Sawhney gets stuck in my head (he composed it for the soundtrack of a silent movie, which you can see in the video). I love that song and anything else by Nitin Sawhney, actually, and never mind having it stuck in my head, so there was EVEN MORE WIN when I saw it on the thrift store shelves.
With all these expectations riding on it, I was pretty much set up for disappointment with the actual book here. As I scanned the Goodreads reviews (which I hardly ever do and can't remember why I was doing, actually), sure enough, there were the people flaming it's "middle grade" style and "feeble stabs" at romance - I can't remember exactly what the quotes were, but that was the gist of it - and my heart just sank. It languished on my shelves for months until I remembered that hey, I have a book blog, and bad books are part of the gig, so suck up and deal and besides, COVER LOVE! Ahh!
I am so glad I got over it, because I loved this book with very few reservations. Sure, the characters never quite hit three-dimensional. Sure, the romance fell a little flat. Sure, the prose wasn't brilliant, and the info-dumps were annoying. But I could rattle off dozens of books like that for you, if you'd like, and very few would have the heart of Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet. Jeeta's agonizing over her dark, "cinnamon" skin was the same agonizing every teen goes through, only times ten. (Speaking of, is that just me or is the cover model too light-skinned? Discuss.) Her relationships with her family were also particularly relatable for teens. The Other Boleyn Girl may still reign supreme when it comes to capturing the subtleties of love-hate sister relationships, but Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet was pretty darn close.
I wasn't a huge fan of the romantic elements, like I said. The characters were just too wooden for it to work. It worked as a novel, though, because it's pretty clear that the focus is on Jeeta's personal growth, if you'll permit my sounding like an after-school special. Funnily enough, while I didn't realize it as I was reading, I'd actually read another book by this author pre-book blog: Blue Jasmine. That novel focused on the immigrant experience, and while I don't remember much about it, I do recall a lot of the same themes of family vs. self, duty vs. happiness. Sheth clearly pours her experiences into her writing, and it's fun and interesting to read.
In short, it's a fast, poignant read that explores problems universal to all teens - not just ones in Mumbai. Four out of five stars, and apologies for the discombobulated review. Sometimes college is murder!