A Book Review: Novel “Summer Break” Is A Fresh Breath Of Air

This novel, The Summer Break, is written by my former student Nirupama Akella under the pen name of Nirupama Rao. I had agreed to write a review of her first published novel when she had been writing her thesis under my guidance. I had actually forgotten the promise but recently she contacted me reminding me of what I had said back in 2002. There was no way out for me, and so reluctantly, very reluctantly I picked up the novel to review it. Let me be frank, as her supervisor who watched and supervised her when she was writing a novella, I knew that Nirupama had been writing novels for quite a few years by then, in fact had won international awards and critical acclaim for her creative literary works, and that she was very hardworking, determined and motivated – her writing lacked the “zing” thing which sets great writers apart from ordinary run-of-the mill writers. Nirupama was just a good writer, and was not an exceptional one นิยายY.

And so I picked up “Summer Break” knowing that I would be reading the same usual stuff. But, I was in for a surprise! I had forgotten that things change; people learn from life and sometimes good writers can evolve into talented, hardworking novelists. Novel “Summer Break” is proof of that. It is a witty and humorous book which warms the heart. It rekindles hope and spirit that good things still happen in life and that one can always trust, and lean on family and friends in good times and bad. The story is truly Indian in context, attitude, style, language, and characters. Full of vivid descriptions and details, one finds it hard to believe that this is the author’s first published effort. The novel opens in a residential neighborhood in South Delhi and swiftly focuses attention on the central characters – the Sandu family. A word of advice here – all the names are Indian, and so it is better not to get wrangled in getting the names right. Because as Shakespeare pointed out, “Whats in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I am not suggesting that Rao’s novel can be compared to a rose – far from it. I am just saying, don’t get put off by the Indian names but keep on reading because believe me the humor is just about to escalate.

The story as such is straightforward – nothing much to it – five cousins and a dog spending their summer holidays together. There is 14 year-old Rahul Sandu who has a penchant for boxing, and temporary amnesia! His twin sisters, Sheila and Tanya are experts in calling spirits and losing their power of speech in matters of prime importance. Cousins Mini and five year-old Mahesh are cute in appearance but not so in temperament. Mahesh discovers that naughty rhymes can actually cause a lot of fun, while Mini reveals a passion for black eyes and boxing rings! There is mongrel Junior who thinks that being called a dog is not nice – it does not matter that he is in reality a dog! And to this mix are additions of loving meddling grandparents, a widowed father, and three friends who devise the “dancing strategy” in the boxing ring.

Summer Break is all about the mischievous pranks, and antics which befall the cousins knowingly, or unknowingly. Written in a simple, engaging, conversational style, the novel endears itself to the reader from the first page itself. Right from page 1 to the last page of the novel, the descriptions are so clearly etched – it’s like watching a film reel rolling in front of your eyes. A reader is able to easily visualize the residential neighborhood of Gulmohur Complex, the houses, the neighbors, and the primary characters. Contrasting imagery, metaphors and ample usage of colloquial words set this contemporary novel for children and adults all over the world apart from other novels of similar genre. And subtly wrapped in each line; cleverly camouflaged is a dramatic sense of humor – you just cannot ignore it. It moves the story forward – think of it being the action propeller of the novel. The action of boxing occurs because Mini commits a laughable gaffe; a humorous blunder! Humor holds the key to all the human drama, action, and adventure in this delightful tale.

The author does not merely tell but shows through conversations. A reader is able to paint a picture of an event in the novel with help from the conversation, thought process written on the page. And yet the characters are not mere cardboard figures who spout funny lines but actual people who think and feel, and have a persona. This is where Rao captures the essence of contemporary India. A reader, be it a teen, an adolescent, a parent, a grandparent, or a professional in the office, can identify with one of the characters, and smile at the unfolding events. Rao’s writing manages to cut across demographics, cultures, religion, and social, economic classes. She writes in the common English language of contemporary India, and succeeds in challenging many stereotypes the West has developed over the years about Indian children. And the West refuses to part with them also. Summer Break shows the reader that the contemporary Indian child is a far cry from these stereotypes. Indian children in contemporary India argue, lie, disobey their elders, make fun of their teachers, and are no way docile, meek and submissive.

I enjoyed this novel and so did my children, and now my 12 year-old granddaughter is reading and chuckling at every page. She cannot put down the book and is totally, completely hooked. My neighbors and students have bought the book and are reading it. And are smiling, grinning as the fun unfolds on every page. Summer Break may not have a Harry Potter, or boast of a magical school but it is a novel which shows us that good clean fun is still engaging, enticing and interesting. So, read Summer Break for a smile, for laughs, for knowing that there is always a way no matter how dark the situation may seem! Keep the positive spirit of Rahul who trusts his friends to find a solution to his boxing woes! And remember there is always a lesson to be learnt – don’t forget how Mahesh learns about tree-climbing! Yes, Summer Break has a lot to offer! It is a novel for those who want to enjoy reading — who want to share and talk about what they have read – it is a novel who just want to relax and unwind from the rigors of modern life! It grows on you and you want to keep turning the pages – it is a complete entertainer!

So, do not miss novel Summer Break – add it to your personal book collection and enjoy the simple pleasure of reading — as Ruskin Bond has said a good book is more precious than gold or silver; and that is exactly how you will feel when you read this novel.

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