by Mitali Perkins
Delacorte Press/Random House Children's Books, 2004
Somebody, please make a movie out of Mitali Perkins's multicultural jewel of a novel—it's so much fun. Just when Jasmine Carol Gardner, age 15, is falling in love with Steve Morales, her best friend since kindergarten, Jasmine's do-gooder mother drags the whole family off to India for a summer of philanthropy. Definitely not what Jasmine, who co-owns a Berkeley business venture with Steve, has in mind.
We get to see India through Jasmine's eyes, and she's a funny, sensitive teenager. "This whole country needs a Rewind button," Jasmine observes as the traffic whizzes by. Jasmine's mom, born in India, wants to repay a debt to the orphanage where she lived until she was adopted by a couple in Berkeley, but Jasmine's Anglo dad is more reluctant to get involved—just like Jasmine. But it's monsoon season, and funny things have been known to happen during that time.
Mitali Perkins handles a big cast of characters with the aplomb of a Bollywood director; still, she keeps her narrator, Jasmine, first and foremost. Perkins's central question, "Can people change?" is answered with humor, vivid descriptions, and a real knack for a good story. The author does not shy away from presenting problems, but readers looking for an alternative to the more graphic teen fare will be happy. I'd recommend Monsoon Summer to advanced preteen readers and grown-ups, too.
According to the book jacket, Mitali Perkins is "dedicated to creating and encouraging fiction for young people caught between cultures"; her web site is www.mitaliperkins.com.