Update: this giveaway is now closed.
When eleven-year-old Dini Kumaran learns that her family must move from Maryland to a small town in South India (her doctor mom got a grant), she’s pretty upset. But upon reaching Swapnagiri (which translates to “Dream Mountain”), Dini hears that her favorite Bollywood star, the beautiful and intelligent and courageous Dolly Singh, is currently staying in the same town. Dini knows that their meeting is ordained; she just has to figure out the minor details. And if grown-up problems plague Dolly, well, Dini has a plan to sort that out too.
It’s my turn today for the blog tour for acclaimed children’s writer Uma Krishnaswami’s gentle, funny, and very wise MG novel The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Here’s the thing: I fell in love with this book, and like most instances of love, it was hard for me to explain exactly why. I drafted and redrafted my review, thought of structure and metaphor and language (all superb), but I had to look deeper, till I realized that this book zinged to the heart of my memories of growing up in India. So, review-schmeview; instead, here’s The Grand List of Everything Specially Indian about The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.
The Sound Thing. Indian sounds aren’t the same as North American sounds. Cars don’t honk but go bebeep, bebeep (and never stop). A Canadian machine would probably cough to a standstill; Indian thingamajigs breakdown with a KREER! KOOCH! KRAAR! And have you heard certain Indian men sneeze? They don’t atishoo, they go oh-aah-bushku. Uma is a genius at Sunno-sunnoing the noises of India, and you’re going to have so much fun sounding them out, especially when riding on public transport.
The Name Thing. The protagonist, Nandini, is called Nandu by her parents, when she’d rather go by Dini. “In her parents’ time, in the last century, that was how you shortened […] Nandini.” So, until I read this book, I thought I was the only one who had analyzed Indian names and concluded that the default shortening mechanism was to tack a “u” to the first three or four letters. So a Sonia becomes Sonu, a Deepak becomes Deepu, and, um, Niranjana becomes Niru. If you grew up in India, you’ve fought hard and lost this battle before you were eight. And somehow, the name followed you through university and across continents, and now, your spouse calls you that when he’s feeling uppish.
The Shoes (or lack thereof) Thing. When I saw the illustration of Dolly Singh dancing in flip-flops, my heart did a little authenticity leap. Yes! In a climate and culture which renders footwear mostly optional, slippers are de rigueur, and I cannot count the number of South Indian weddings I’ve attended where women clad in silk saris with (real) gold embroidery, with diamonds and emeralds erupting all over their bodies, wear flip-flops styled by Dollarama (aka the Bata Hawaii chappal) on their feet.
The Bollywood in Context Thing. I’d probably watched all of five Bollywood films when I turned thirteen, but growing up in India, it was impossible to avoid the songs. Indian music was divided into classical and film, with nothing betwixt or between, and film songs were either Sad or Happy. When Dini criticizes Dolly’s latest film for having only sad songs, well, it could have been me speaking twenty years ago. And Dini’s parents’ uncomprehending but cheerful acceptance of their daughter’s fondness for Bollywood is pretty much where I am now. Finally! a book where Bollywood evokes nuanced reactions that go beyond the distaste/fascination duality.
The Happiness Thing. People who are mostly cheerful and obliging. Loving parents. Minor perils. Small but intense joys. A dash of surreality. The Grand Plan… is an unapologetic celebration of a happy Indian childhood, and I am so grateful that Uma has given us this reality amongst all the other (mostly dismal) realities of India that have populated my reading thus far. While the book is indeed filled with magical coincidences and fairy-tale resolutions, at its heart, I see it an affirmation of the ordinary child, who, powered by little other than good intentions and doughty resolution, can shape things positively. My own childhood reading was devoid of such Indian protagonists, and I am so delighted that my nine-year-old niece in Delhi, who loves Ramona Quimby and Judy Moody to bits, can now read about Dini Kumaran.
And…a giveaway! If you would like to get a copy of this book, please leave a comment on this post saying so, and one commenter will receive a copy. Please note that shipping is restricted to Canada/USA; the giveaway ends June 30.
Update: The two winners are
1. Sheryl McFarlane Tilley
2. Kamini @ Tales of South India