Jazz in Love by Neesha Meminger
Ignite Books, 206 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?
I had a pretty quiet childhood. My parents weren’t necessarily strict, but I wasn’t allowed to do many things either without their permission. They really didn’t have to worry, anyway, since I’m a pretty good kid. At least, I’d like to think I am, save for the occasional messy room and laziness with school work. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown that now, and I’ve found my own identity, but I know that I wouldn’t be me without my somewhat quiet childhood and teen years. :D
Jasbir Dhatt, also known as Jazz, is a lot like I was back then, except maybe she’s smarter. She’s always been the good girl, with good friends and good reputation, at least until her parents decided that it’s time for her to go through a guided dating program after her mother hears she hugged a boy. Before Jazz knows it, her mom presents a set of pictures of boys she could pick from to date, but Jazz doesn’t want to. She wants to fall in love the normal way — preferably with the new hottie in school, Tyler R. Jazz’s choices clash with her culture and her family, making her life spin totally out of control, leaving her wondering if she could still have what she wants without losing everything that she had grown up with.
Jazz in Love is refreshing. It’s contemporary YA with color, and lots of it. I loved how easy it is to relate to Jazz even if we’re different in terms of culture and religion. Even so, Jazz still had the same concerns as every teenager does. This is what really made this novel stand out for me. I haven’t really read many novels that feature Persons of Color so I’m not an expert, but being Asian (Filipino), the cultural references isn’t really new to me, despite not really sharing the same culture with Jazz. I guess it’s because I read a lot of Filipino fiction, and I know that our culture is already different from Western ones, so reading this felt just like reading an ordinary contemporary YA book. What I really liked, though, is how Jazz in Love opened my eyes to Jazz’s world without the oppression from another race that makes her and her friends a minority. Jazz has found her place where she lives, and sometimes I even forget that she’s Indian because she isn’t out of place. This just goes to show that you don’t need to put in violence or oppression to make a point about other cultures in novels set in Western countries. See — even seemingly fluffy sounding novels can tackle serious topics! :)
I think the best part of this is Jazz. Because she is Jazz and never for a moment in the novel that I thought of her as someone else. Her voice rang clear and true all throughout. She made bad decisions, she got into trouble, she “fell in love”, but she was always herself. It was hard to see her get in trouble because I know that she had the best intentions for other people, despite some of her selfish intentions, but still, you have to love a girl who just wanted to find out how it feels to fall in love without having someone choose who to love for you. Jazz’s overall situation resonates with a lot of teens — the search for identity outside of what your parents ideals of you, outside of your culture, and the search for that kind of love that makes your insides quiver then realizing that maybe that isn’t what you wanted in the end. She put it quite well herself:
Was I too busy looking for the giant, all consuming love I’d read about; the one that woke sleeping beauties out of eternal sleep and whisked lovely maidens away from their wicked stepmothers, transforming them into princesses in glittering ball gowns? A love that sent my heart racing, made my tongue go numb that made an FSL — Future Star and Leader — student like me do stupid things despite knowing better?
…What if Love wasn’t all that? What if it was quieter, like a whisper on a breeze that you had to listen real hard for? Or smaller, like a cardamom seed that’s soothing and pungent and explosive all at once?
Truth be told, I don’t think I’d have the same realization at her age. Heh. And true to the real world, the novel didn’t offer an easy way out or a clean ending, and those are the endings I like best. :) As a whole, though, Jazz in Love is a very good read not just about love but identity and growing up. If you’re like me who’s a lot like Jazz when you were younger, then you’ll probably enjoy this too. :)
My copy: Kindle edition
Cover & blurb: Goodreads
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