The Case of the Stolen Strokes of Heaven: An Annoying Teenage Misadventure

Keith lifted the wooden lid that covered his desk only to recoil in shock of the sight he beheld.

“My sketchbook,” he noted. “It’s gone.”

He had barely been gone for a matter of ten minutes, but those ten minutes that he spared to eat his lunch had turned out to be a grave mistake, as he now realized.

“Hey, Eris?” he spoke. “Are you seeing this?”

“If you mean the fact that your sketchbook is missing,” she said, with the roll of her eyes evident in her voice, “yes, yes I am. However,” she spoke, raising her nihilistic tone to one that now mocked the boy standing by her. “If you mean that I am seeing the fact hat you’ve lost your sense of normalcy, then I noticed that eons ago.”

The boy rubbed his pale temples in disdain, sending a glare worthy of only a child of Medusa towards the curly-haired tower of sarcasm above him.

“I’m serious, Eris. That had spoilers for my manga in it. It could get leaked and my spotless reputation would be soiled forevermore!”

“You don’t even have a manga,” she shook her head sadly. “It’s just a little comic you doodle about an angel and a devil who fall in love. And its on your Instagram, not even physically published.”

“But Eris,” he pleaded. “Help me find it, at least.”

“I can’t say no to that face.” She sighed. “Fine, at least give me a minute to find Zack and Connie.”

Ten minutes later four middle-schoolers were grouped around the crime scene, stating the fact of the case which had now come to be known as the ‘Case of the Stolen Strokes of Heaven’ as Connie dubbed it.

(‘But Keith’s art isn’t that great”, Eris complained. ‘Yes, it is,’ Connie declared. ‘So there.’)

“So you and Keith went down to eat lunch,” Zack summed up. “For ten minutes, and then he returns to find that his sketchbook has disappeared off the face of the earth.”

“That’s pretty much it.” Eris concluded. “Connie seems to have no input on the matter though, do you, Connie?”

“Nope. Nada. Zilch. Nahi.” Connie affirmed in four languages.

Eris rolled her eyes. “I wish I didn’t ask, you braggart.”

“Guys,” Keith spoke, for the first time in 10 minutes. “It’s been a while and we haven’t got any closer to figuring out suspects.”

“For once,” Eris noted. “Keith is right.”

“For once?” Keith exclaimed in outrage.

“Oh my God, would you two stop? Look, kids are coming into the class right now.” Zack rattled off. “We’ll scan them for any guilty faces. Eris, try not to look like you’re going to murder everyone in cold blood. Connie, stop grinning like an escaped mental hospital admittance, and Keith? Just, try not to cry? I guess?”

“I’m too tough to cry.” Keith spoke.

Connie coughed into her fist. “Just yesterday you were crying about snakes.”

“They don’t have proper eyesight! They can’t read manga!” Keith wailed.

Just then, the most petrifying danger, even worse than hurricane Irma, stormed into the class with a sour look of resignation on her face, her eyes flittering from student to student pronouncing, I hate that, I hate that and I really hate that.

It was math class, and Mrs. Johannesburg was back.

Who is Mrs. Johannesburg, you may ask? Well, you’re certainly been lucky to not know her. She was the principal of the school, nicknamed ‘The Demon Teacher’ by her pupils, who doubled as a math teacher for, well,  let us just call them…special classes. In particular, Eris’ class.

She despised Eris and her gang. Eris with her curly hair, rude demeanor and sarcastic behavior; Keith with his lack of interest in the subject and constant doodling in class; and Zack  with his tendency to identify loopholes, ask stupid questions and distract the class, they were the absolute worst.

But she loved Connie, for no apparent reason other than the fact that she kept finding more and more excessively complicated ways to do a simple sum.

Eris groaned, and Keith shifted his seat behind her to be shielded from the demon teacher as much as possible. Zack leaned back in his chair to leisurely think of the worded pranks he would pull this lesson.

Connie sat up front. Teacher’s pet, Eris thought, with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“Aargh!” Keith whisper-yelled to the dark-skinned girl to his front. “What am I supposed to do in class?”

“Look on the bright side,” Eris remarked. “You’ll listen today and scribble some notes, hopefully, instead of doodling all the time. At least you could pass the upcoming Maths teat this week.”

“Very helpful,” Keith snorted. “Especially since you’re going to sleep all lesson.”

“No, I’m not.” Eris retorted. “Now take out your book, she’s already started.”

“No, I won’t.” Keith snapped. “In fact, I’m going to-”

But we will never know what Keith was going to do, for it was Mrs. Johannesburg who did something, and that something was rapidly whipping around to face Keith and deliver one of her famous snide remarks.

“Mr. Katana,” She sneered. “I’m sure we’d all love to take a lesson from you in Maths, wouldn’t we? After all, not many of us have received the honor of getting straight F’s in this year.”

Keith visibly winced. “Sorry.”

Keith dug out his notebook and sighed, he honestly hated this class from the bottom of his heart.

Five thousand zillion bajillion years later, or maybe not, it just felt like that to Keith, the class was over. Keith stuck his hand back inside his bag to pull out his science notebook when his hand clasped around a familiar shape.

“My sketchbook!” He exclaimed in surprise.

Eris burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter as she looked into the camera of her phone.

“And that is how to trick a Keith!” She beamed into the mike.

“Oh. My. God.” Keith’s jaw dropped onto the floor. “It was you! You lying, sneaky, dirty, piece of-”

“And this is the part where you-” She was cur off short but a guttural yell from Keith as she sprang to her feet and sprinted in the direction of Zack.

“RUN!” She laughed into the phone as they darted around chairs and dived under desks.

Eris was stopped short by Keith catching both her legs as she flailed her arms and planted face-first in the ground as her other friends gathered around.

Keith placed a leg on her head, retrieved the phone and put in the ending shot.

“Okay, so, Zack and Connie,” Keith stated. “What have we learned today?”

“Never mess with Keith’s sketchbooks,” They solemnly spoke in unison. Or, you’ll get it.”

“Well spoken, my friends,” Keith spoke smugly. “Understood, Eris?”

“Get off my face,” Was Eris’ groaned response. “God, you’re such a dork.”

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Unbroken – Putting together the pieces!

Shoutout to The Duckbill Blog, for commenting on my Summer Reading List and suggesting Unbroken, a book that rendered me speechless and touched my heart and soul. Three cheers for Nandita Nambi!

The author has done an amazing job of portraying a teenager’s mental drama and angst.(like Dumbledore says.. “Just because it is happening in your mind doesn’t mean it is not real” ).

..and without romance. So First YAY!!! for  YA novel without romance. Yes, there are a whole bunch of heart-wrenching romance and even action stories with touching romances, I’ve read quite a few. The Fault in Our Stars (Hazel and Augustus), The House of Hades (both Percabeth and Percico), The Lost Oracle (Solangelo), and of course, The Cursed Child (Scorbus, duh.) (Parents, you don’t need to look this up if you don’t already know. It’s a teenage thing.).  But I was really glad the novel steered cleared of diluting this experience with an ill fitting romantic interest.

The characters are well-crafted, completely realistic and relatable. The book is  not much about the events, but the whirlwind of emotions that wrap around you.  And our protagonist, Akriti, is the centre of it all. She’s rude, mean, aggressive, sarcastic and doesn’t care about  her studies or other people’s feelings. Then she has a ridiculously perfect younger brother, and her parents fight. She sketches (dark of course) and listens to music, shutting out the rest of the world. Just another petulant teen stuck in her daily troubles? …but wait.

Can you blame her? She’s paralysed from the waist down.  But  at no point does the author try to make her likable , rise above her pain heroically or arouse our sympathy. (Quite unlike Wonder where you are rooting for Augustus).

The story is from her POV and her anger, frustration and disgust seethes through her pain. As I read, finding her behaviour largely unacceptable yet I could see myself there.. wanting to be strong rather than wallow in sympathy, angry rather than accept her pain, be scary rather than get hurt.

What I loved ?  While talking about disability in an honest and unpatronizing way itself is no mean feat, here are a few other aspects I loved:

  1. Sibling Rivalry – Don’t you hate it when your sibling can do stuff that you can’t? Whether it’s effortlessness completing a jigsaw puzzle that took you hours or churning out amazing projects done in the last minute, for which you take weeks, living in the shadow of your sibling is something a kid never wants to face. Forget the accomplishments, how do you deal with it when they are just a better human being than you are?
    Yet beneath the permanent tiff and I -wish- you- weren’t- born, there is an inexplicable deep love and  those tender moments between brother and sister ..reminded me grudgingly of a few of my own.
  2. Fights between Parents/ elders –  The pain and the torture  of having the very people who are supposed to be raising you, fighting  and blaming  each other… for your mistakes? Really, while  I saw her shut them out sometimes, label them and even exploit them, I pondered about similar arguments and what I may have thought of them  inadvertently.
  3. Seeing a Shrink – Again a rather rarely written about topic,  a child who sees a psychiatrist when she is not crazy or has not had a nervous or emotional breakdown yet...simply because sometimes  the expertise helps and sometimes having a neutral person makes it much each to talk. ..or listen.
  4. Smoking – Though this wasn’t an objective, there was a slight undertone on the importance of not smoking. The protagonist’s friend, Karthik, tries smoking and she’s repulsed by it and snatches the pack away from him. Smoking is not cool.. take one look at the images of its aftereffects (mom thrust some seriously gory images of lung cancer at me and pretty sensible statistics) and you’ll be scarred for life. Why would you choose to breathe in extra pollution anyway?

sauxmlzlsm-1493530375I also loved the Cover art, all fragile , handle with care symbols, a wheelchair and  a stamp declaring UNBROKEN.  (not sure if the leg symbol with a cross and a temp sign were chosen on purpose..but it is beginning to give me an idea for my door sign!) 

So there it is, a book that I loved and a  recommended #must-read for teens that go through life sulking, mad at life, complaining and screaming about its unfairness, hurt when often just a change of attitude is all that is required..to start sketching rainbows and unicorns again. (ok ..that was a bit too much :))

 

 

 

 

 

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) – A Book to KILL for!

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins topped my reading list for the year 2016 with its unusual plot and twists where you least expect it. I am penning a single review  of the three books as a whole series, rather than individually…because  you will end up picking it up as set( I was gifted one too:)) and simply because you are unlikely to stop after one!

It’s set in the dystopian city of Panem, where the governing body or the ‘Capitol’ send two children, aged twelve or older, from each of the 12 districts, to their death in a game meant for their amusement, so they can sit and watch children scream in pain as they’re mauled, stabbed or shot by each other, while the Capitol eats roast turkey at the dinner table. Great conversation starter, right?

When Katniss is determined to come out alive along with her fellow tribute Peeta, things get a little bit dicey. They decide to play out an tragic ‘star-crossed lovers’ story, where they’re outright refusing to kill me each other due to their ‘undying’ love for each other. Sort of like, if the Capitol wants drama, we’ll give you drama!

And if there wasn’t a plot twist to a book like this, that would be doing injustice to this book (and this review). However, there isn’t just one plot twist, there’s two! These two major twists lead to the formation of a love triangle and multiple blackmail scenarios.
A perfect blend of suspense, creativity and romance, The Hunger Games had me hooked. This book had me practically screaming ‘Why, Peeta why?’ at his dramatic acts and squealing at Everlark moments. (In case you didn’t know, Everlark is the pairing of Katniss and Peeta.)
My favorite character has to be Katniss. Cliché, but true. Katniss is everything an independent warrior should be – rock strong, cunning, understanding, amazingly accurate aim, and a rebellious spirit. She changes drastically when thrown into the Hunger Games, from a girl concerned about her sister’s duck-tailed dress, to someone responsible for the rise of a rebellion. Katniss, has one weak point – the ones she cares about. In Mockingjay, when Peeta’s memories have been tampered with, he sees Katniss as someone evil, Katniss gets upset and tends to blow a fuse when people mention Peeta.
A thing I didn’t like? I’m not a big fan of romance. At some points in time, I can’t stand it, especially as it wiggles its way into every Young Adult novel . I know I said it was a perfect blend, but yet it keeps me from reading the book to its full potential. (Even while reading The House of Hades, part of my favorite series, I had to skim through the chapters set in either Percy or Annabeth’s point of view.)
Recommendations? I almost said Everyone must read it…The deaths and torture of the tributes are described in agonizing detail,  are certainly painful to read. Yet, I found the book simply amazing.(Creepy?) I bet you’ll be hooked until the end of Mockingjay. However, I would suggest the very young preteens to wait until they have a stomach for some pain.
It’s thought-provoking as the reality of the book weighs on you when you put it down. The book makes you ponder about authority, governments, freedom, sacrifice and love. Do the ends justify the means? In the end, can you be yourself  and not succumb to judgement in world where power, wealth , celebrity status rule? In short, can you be human in an inhumane situation…
My favourite quote from the book “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”
Lastly, it has a -severely disappointing- movie. Please avoid. Whatever version you made up in your head about these while reading the  books, it will be 100 times better than this movie. I promise! There you have been warned.
Let the Games..errr..reading begin!

Apoorva’s Fat Diary (Nandini Nayar) – Enormously Funny!

Is Apoorva’s Fat Diary an Indian retort to the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series? A fat girl struggling to survive in a malicious, non-forgiving school world? These were my initial thoughts as I picked this book.

Written by Nandini Nayar and published by Mango Books, this book is indeed a delightful diary of a plump Indian school girl. Apoorva (the main character in this book), like all growing tweens, loves food and hates to write! The diary begins as a negotiated agreement between Apoorva and her persuasive mother to improve her writing skills. Apoorva agrees to this on one condition-she will only write about the 12 best meals she has eaten- and nothing more! But the story has been crafted so beautifully that it is a insightful peep into of every chubby school kid’s diary. Her mother relying on fat parenting books to get her fit into the shape of the world, a super fit dad, an adorable Aaji, her pretty sister Avantika and of course, an annoying, irritating little brother Ashu are very relatable!

The bus bully Bharat and the quirky ‘elephant’ jokes are hilarious! Rakesh uncle, his mindless attitude and the family’s varied reactions to his mean comments, once again underline the importance of remaining unperturbed and following you heart like Apoorva. I really like Apoorva’s cool attitude because it inspires me not to get shaken by jokes and let nothing bother me.

The book was very entertaining, stuffed with breaths of everyday school life thrills and chills- from eating someone else’s lunch, getting glasses to the ‘Grand Sports Day’ and Apoorva’s discomfiture. What truly elevated the experience was the superlatively funny illustrations by Lavanya Karthik.

A few of my favourite are the monster in Rakesh uncle’s shadow, Ashu with a tape across his mouth, Apoorva getting squashed by a ‘fat’ book, her trial for sports day events and the question and answers. With my habit of doodling in my own diary, these cartoons made it a perfect kid’s dairy to me!

Every fat girl will find herself nodding to this book. But Apoorva’s sensible head, the take everything in your stride attitude and her value for true friendship in school life were the takeaways for me.

I chose this  for the contest because every Apoorva and her friends need to read this book to get a taste of what it is like to be a fat girl in the school and why that’s cool too!

 

(P.S. My review was one of the winning reviews for the Leading Reading Schools of India 2016 challenge and was officially published here.)