Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Five children are summoned to the principal’s office and it is an unusual situation. They are asked if they were aware that their friend Muskaan had been unhappy, stressed or bullied. All of them knew that. What they didn’t know was that Muskaan had tried to commit suicide the previous night.
So begins ‘Talking Of Muskaan’ by Himanjali Sankar. The children are representative of what you might find in any Indian school. The rich arrogant boy Prateek, the not so wealthy Subhojoy and the close gang of girls. The girls have their own best friends in the close gang, they do what most girls do – hang out together, try waxing, talk of boys and friends and everything under the sun.
What is unusual is some of the issues Himanjali tries to address. Muskaan is troubled because she has become aware that she is different in her sexual orientation. Subhojoy is angry because he is not wealthy and feels like an outsider. And Aaliya likes boys, but she also loves Muskaan and liked kissing her.
While the book is being highlighted in media because of its take on sexual orientation among children, I found Himanjali’s attempt at trying to talk about class issues among teenagers even more commendable. As adults, we look at children and childhood through rose tinted glasses. We like to believe that children are unprejudiced about class. That is not necessarily true. Prateek takes on the opinions of his rich arrogant parents who believe that money is the decisive factor in life; Subhojoy feels inferior because his family is not wealthy or sophisticated and he carries the burden of their expectations. Just like adults, children also use ‘differentness’ as a weapon to heckle others.
What I liked about the characters in the book is that they are not all good or all evil. They are normal children trying to make sense of the world around them. If Prateek lashes out at Muskaan it is because he had really liked her and felt rejected by her; Subhojoy is not the poor victim and makes life miserable for Prateek and despite their competitiveness, both Muskaan and Subhojoy form a strong bond based on their ‘differentness’.
I like young adult fiction because compared to other genres, it is unpretentious and presents issues upfront and clear. Hemanjali is true to this essential YA spirit. If I had a wish list for this lovely book it would be for a little more layering of the conflicts and issues – simply because children ‘get’ it!
A definite read.