Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari
When she made her Stateside debut last year in Sita Brahmachari‘s Mira in the Present Tense (titled Artichoke Hearts in the original edition across the Pond), hapa Jewish Indian British tween Mira Levenson seemed wise beyond her 12 years in the midst of losing her paternal grandmother Nana. In this sequel, she’s two years older, and is about to gain relatives she never knew she had.
Mira travels alone to Kolkata, India to visit estranged relatives – her mother’s cousin Anjali who shares her mother’s birthday, Anjalis’ daughter Priya who is three months apart in age from Mira, plus a growing cast of extended maternal family. Decades have passed since Mira’s mother and Anjali have seen one another, although they were more sisters than cousins as children. Mira and Priya have never met before but they bond instantly.
Although Mira’s luggage goes missing, she arrives literally bearing family baggage: she’s stolen the decades-old letters her mother and Anjali sent to each other between England and India, hoping to figure out what kept the family apart for so long.
Mira loves her time with mother and daughter both: Anjali runs a shelter for street kids; Priya is rehearsing for an important upcoming classical dance recital. And upstairs lives Janu, a would-be street kid who’s a part of the family, who at 16 works regularly at Anjali’s shelter. Mira falls for him immediately, although she’s been with Jidé from Present Tense for two years.
Mira’s guilty feelings get compounded three-fold, over her theft of the letters, her betrayal of Jidé, and her determination to learn the family secrets even at the cost of dangerous disobedience. A potentially tragic incident involving Mira will finally force the estranged adults to confront their past.
Brahmachari’s melding of seemingly unrelated narrative details proved resonatingly effective in Present Tense. She similarly blends unexpected ingredients here – from coincidental meetings, remote village jaunts, letters lost and found, painted sneakers, DJs, supernatural visits, a cupboard that holds more memories than saris, and much more. Alas, this time, the scattered threads result in too many loose ends, both dismissive and looming. For starters, why mention Anjali’s traveling husband and never offer anything more? More obviously, would a frantic parent really leave a child in a hospital bed on the other side of the world? More missteps occur as the narrative gets overloaded with pontificating lectures on family bonds and haves vs. have-nots.
By the time the big reveal about the estrangement finally comes, the eyeballs have long been stuck in a teenage roll. One consolation: with Mira in such flux at the end of Skies, perhaps Brahmachari is planning a trilogy … which means Book 3 just might regain Mira‘s original charm. Here’s hoping …!
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2012, 2014 (United States)