Author: Neesha Meminger
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Ignite Books (self-published)
Publication date: January 10, 2011
Paperback: 260 pages
Jasbir, a.k.a. Jazz, has always been a stellar student and an obedient, albeit wise-cracking, daughter. Everything has gone along just fine–she has good friends in the “genius” program she’s been in since kindergarten, her teachers and principal adore her, and her parents dote on her. But now, in her junior year of high school, her mother hears that Jazz was seen hugging a boy on the street and goes ballistic. Mom immediately implements the Guided Dating Plan, which includes setting up blind dates with “suitable,” pre-screened Indian candidates. The boy her mother sets her up with, however, is not at all what anyone expects; and the new boy at school, the very UNsuitable hottie, is the one who sets Jazz’s blood boiling. When Jazz makes a few out-of-the-ordinary decisions, everything explodes, and she realizes she’ll need a lot more than her genius education to get out of the huge mess she’s in. Can Jazz find a way to follow her own heart, and still stay in the good graces of her parents?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I read The Rejectionist’s review of the book and bought it straight away
Jasbir, AKA Jazz, is an excellent student, an obedient daughter and a good friend to her BFFs Cindy and Jeeves. But she has reached that certain age where her parents are starting to worry about her future and coming from a Sikh family, that means they are worrying about her future husband. After seeing Jazz hugging a friend, and to Jazz’s horror, her mom decided to implement a Guided Dating Plan where she will meet suitable Indian boys. But things don’t go according to plan: the guy the family has set their heart on is totally not into Jazz (for she is of the wrong gender), the guy Jazz has set HER heart on is totally unsuitable, and the guy that has set his heart on Jazz is …well, good old Jeeves. On top of that, Jazz devises a plan to reunite a good friend with her childhood sweetheart who may or may not be a British Celebrity.
Voice and Identity. Those are the two words that come to mind when thinking about Jazz in Love. The first relates completely to Jazz and her narrative voice: she is oh so funny, smart and very, very believable as a teenager: a completely fallible, still-growing-up teen who makes mistakes in the process of becoming a woman. She is also completely relatable and I think that one of the greatest aspects of Jazz in Love is how even though Jazz’s problems basically stem from her Indian heritage, the mode in which they are presented and dealt with are universal: because everybody, no matter the background, can relate to family pressure and expectations, to wanting to find love, to figuring out stuff about sex, about friendship and loyalty.
Which brings me to the second point and what I see as the underlying theme of the book: Identity. Jazz is from an Indian family who believes that real Indians are those either born in India or at the very least with parents (Jazz’s case) or grandparents who were. They are also religious (Sikh) and those elements shape who they are and who they expect Jazz to be. But Jazz is also American. Above all, Jazz is well, Jazz and it is in the pursuit of this identity that she will ask questions, and clash with family and friends and even with her own self. And those questions asked involve astute observations about sexuality, about gender roles, about heritage and tradition versus modernity. There is this very basic conflict of being an individual whilst also belonging to a group and of being an Other inside one’s own family. And in the end, Jazz has to conciliate everything about her: her indianness, her sikhness but also her americaness and also her Jazzness. I loved how there were no easy answers or an easy solution because it made it all the more believable. This is not to say though that this is an “issue” book because it is not – none of those things are heavy-handed or intense to the point where they take over the story.
Jazz in Love is light and funny whilst also providing food for thought and this combination is what makes it a Great Book. Plus, Jazz is an awesome protagonist and I loved her like I love wonderful things such as water, chocolates and kittens.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
“Wait,” Toni said, holding up a hand, “they arranged her marriage?” “Yes,” I said, moving quickly. I was not in the mood to have the Arranged Marriage Conversation. I hated that one- it put me right smack dab in the middle of the stereotype. I was not doing it today. “I can’t believe they still arrange marriages,” Mary said. Apparently, I was doing it today.
Additional Thoughts: I shall start this AT with a simple statement: Neesha Meminger is made of awesome.
Samar–a.k.a. Sam–has never known much about her Indian heritage because her mom has deliberately cut ties with her old-fashioned family. It’s never bothered Sam, who is busy with school, friends, and a really cute, but demanding boyfriend. But things change after 9/11 when a guy in a turban shows up at Sam’s house and turns out to be her uncle. He wants to reconcile the family and teach Sam about her Sikh heritage. Sam isn’t sure what to do, until a girl at school calls her a coconut–brown on the outside, white on the inside. That decides it: Why shouldn’t Sam get to know her family? What is her mom so afraid of? But when some boys attack her uncle, Sam realizes she could be in danger–and also discovers how dangerous ignorance can be. Can Sam find a way to bridge two worlds and make them both her own?
Her first book Shine, Coconut Moon was published in 2009 and gathered rave reviews. I read the book over Christmas and I loved it (although I never reviewed it. You can check this list with reviews from Kirkus, PW, Booklist, etc) . But despite the good reviews and the clamouring from readers for MOARs, the author could not find a publisher for Jazz in Love because editors found it “too quiet,” “too commercial,” or it “won’t stand out.” In a great article for The Rejectionist, the author explains her decision to take the self-published route:
For me, it makes no sense to sit around, waiting for an agent or editor to decide whether my book deserves a home. I have readers asking for my next book. I wake up to dozens of emails a day from teen and adult readers, librarians and teachers, asking when my next release is due. I have nothing to tell them. I have a perfectly good book sitting on my hard drive that in another economic time would easily have been acquired. But in these times, publishers have been afraid to take a risk on it. I just want to reach my readers. And this is, quite possibly, where our interests diverge. Of course we both want to make money. But for me, there’s more to it than that. There are readers who will buy and cherish my book because it speaks to them, because they see themselves in it. And those readers will probably own well-read copies of Twilight and Harry Potter and all those other best-sellers, too. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. But if “quieter” books like mine are consistently overlooked in favour of the bigger, flashier, trendier (pre-determined) “money-makers,” it’s readers’ options that are reduced, not only those of writers.
So, I’m exploring. If the bottom line, for me as a writer, is not necessarily sales (though I’d love those, as well), but getting to my readers, increasing the diversity of tales out in the world–then what’s stopping me from just going it on my own? Especially now, when there are so many more options? I may not make the rolling-in-cash type of sales that big publishers need to make, but I could make a nice, respectable amount just fine. And I, for one, am totally okay with that. I want to write. I’ve proven that I can. In another time, I would be given the opportunity to improve my craft with a mentor/editor, I would be nurtured as a budding author. I would write story after story for my editor and see the writing process complete its cycle – from story seed to an actual book in the hands of readers. This is a necessary part of the creative process for a writer. Without it, our craft suffers, our creativity withers. And to have that power in the hands of people who are necessarily concerned more with profit than writing is a travesty. This doesn’t mean editors and publishers are bad. They’re not. In my experience, most editors are as gut-wrenchingly caught up this mess as writers are. Most editors LOVE stories – all kinds of diverse and wonderful stories that they would love to support. But they have people to answer to, as well. It’s just a part of our reality.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow