Review: Jazz in Love
Arranged marriages are history, right? The kind of thing that only happens in movies. Or maybe still in India. But not in America. And not to Jasbir. Jasbir, known as Jazz by her friends, is shocked and upset when her parents tell her that they will be setting her up with a husband. After all, Jazz is only a teenager, and wants to date like all of her friends. She wants to choose who she loves, and she wants to base that on emotion, not caste or professional plans. While Jazz is swooning over the new school hottie, she pretends to be in a relationship with the man of her parents’ dreams.
At the same time, Jazz finds out that her aunt, now separated from an abusive husband, once similarly got involved with a guy against her parents’ wishes. That guy, as it turns out, has become an Indian talk-show celebrity. Jazz and her friends get involved in an array of antics to try to get her aunt back with the man she loved before being set up with her own arranged husband.
Like many readers, I was glad to come across a book with a character of color, and to see a book that dealt with cultural issues that I hadn’t come across much in YA. Of course most YA characters are similarly rebellious, questioning authority, and trying to figure out their own identities, but the Indian spin on things takes these relatively universal issues into a more specific realm that may not be familiar to many readers.
Given that, Neesha Meminger has a very difficult balancing act to fulfill in Jazz in Love. The book tries to represent Indian-American teens without alienating teens of other ethnic backgrounds. Knowing quite a bit about Indian culture already, I found some of the explanations of cultural customs to be overdone, and might have appreciated more subtlety. At times it felt more like a primer for those outside of the culture, which has its own merit, but slows down the pace of the plotting. I would have preferred a more seamless integration of the cultural elements, but admittedly, I understand the difficulty in doing that when so many people would not understand some aspects of the book.
I also would have liked to see Jazz pursue a relationship based more on substance than appearance, but I could understand her lusting after a guy when she was forbidden from so much as hugging one deemed unsuitable by her parents. Still, I might have rooted for Jazz more had I felt a stronger connection to her love interest.
Despite that, I found Jazz witty and charming. Her slang-filled narrative had me cracking up, bindi-bos being one of my favorite new words (bimbos with bindis). Jazz is also smart, a member of her school’s gifted program, and I like that this book makes that a matter of pride rather than shame. It was also refreshing to see so much family involvement in a YA novel, even if Jazz might argue that it is over-involvement.
I already have Meminger’s Shine Coconut Moon in my TBR pile, and I’m looking forward to seeing her approach to another story about an Indian-American teen seeking out her identity and heritage after 9/11.