Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Teen-age confessions

Dibyajyoti Sarma reviews the novel The Year I Turned 16 by Deeptha Khanna

I am trifle wary of so-called chic-lit. The same goes to teen fiction. And when these two are combined, it’s a bad idea even try to read the book. This was my initial reaction when I was given the book for a review, very scrumptiously titled, The Year I Turned 16, by a first-time writer Deeptha Khanna.
Having finished the novel, I am wise to know that you can’t generalise books; each of them are good or bad in their own right, and yes, I confess, I liked the book.
As you can expect from the tag ‘teen fiction,’ the book narrates the story of a teen-age girl, Vinita Sharma, precisely, 15 going on 16. Vinita tells her own story simply because her teacher had asked her to keep a diary for the summer holidays, and what a fifteen-year-old girl write in her diary except for her immediate life and her teen fantasies. And mind you, she’s no Anne Frank!
So Vinita introduces us to her family, her loving father, her ‘great cook’ mother, and her brother Vinay with overactive hormones and his cricket practices; her friends—the angelic Naina, Jaggu the house clown, Ashley the inscrutable, bold and seductive Gargi, and the American Marcus; and her secrets—her first love Shah Rukh Khan and her second love… Oh well, let’s not spoil the fun!
Summer vacation begins and from there on it’s the usual routine (Remember Enid Blyton and the Famous Five!). Here, it’s Vinita and her friends, their families and the immediate neighbourhood, their studies, their adolescent aspirations, and the experience of growing up in 1990s India—economic growth and the beginning of MTV!
What saves the book from being a ‘heard it before’ stuff is the breezy, candid way Vinita writes her diary. Though it is her first novel, Khanna shows maturity in handling her material, especially in presenting the details, it’s a smooth sail, in matter and in language, so smooth that sometimes you wonder whether a 15-year-old girl can really write like this! The packaging is fantastic, where chapters are divided into weeks, and where each chapter carries a pictures—ranging from Shah Rukh Khan to underwear—to highlight the dominant theme of the chapter. This certainly helps Vinita’s cause as it makes the characters come alive and coaxes us to know about them.
However, what impressed me more is the confidence through which Khanna has recreated the time, 1990s Delhi, to be precise, the year cable television came to India and changed our lives (personally, the time when I was a teen), a time which feels so recent, yet so different from the present era of globalisation. The scene, where Vinita watches the TV at midnight with keeping the volume mute and is mesmerised by Michael Jackson, took me back to my own teen.
The Year I Turned 16 is not a masterpiece or something but it fulfils all the criteria of a teen fiction. If nothing else, the book can just be a ‘no frill’ ticket to your teen! Happy journey!

Published by: Puffin (A division of Penguin)
Page: 156
Price: 175
Rating: 3 1/2

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