Jazz Gardner is fifteen, the daughter of an ethnic Indian mother, who was adopted from an orphanage in India as a young child. Jazz’s father is a computer programmer, the strong , silent type, who supports her mother in all her philanthropic projects. Jazz is expected to participate in “helping others”, but she doesn’t really think she has the right personality to help anyone since the only time she ever attempted to do a good deed, it turned into a disaster. Since then, she’s stayed out of philanthropy and used her time to run a successful tourist business with her best friend, Steve.
Now Jazz’s mom tells her that the family is going to spend the summer in India, helping out at the orphanage that Mrs. Gardner lived in before she was adopted. And at about the same time, Jazz realizes that her feelings for Steve, her longtime business partner, have turned into something more than just platonic friendship. Unfortunately, there’s no indication from Steve that he sees Jazz as anything but a friend and a partner. And other girls are after Steve. And the business needs her. And who wants to go to India, anyway?
Jazz learns a lot about herself and her own abilities as she copes with a foreign culture, and she learns something about how to relate to Steve, even from the other side of the world. The picture of India and Indian culture is vividly drawn, and Jazz’s Indian friend, Danita, has something to teach Jazz, just as Jazz finds out that she has gifts that can help her friend. I think I’ll recommend this one to Brown Bear Daughter, even though she’s only eleven (going on twenty). The relationship between Jazz and her friend, Steve, is treated sensitively and yet honestly.
The orphanage in the story is a Christian orphanage, so the characters are mostly at least nominal Christians. The religious differences between India and the U.S. are hardly mentioned. However, the cultural differences loom large. Jazz is amazed at the possibility that her friend, Danita, may marry a much older man in order to provide a home for herself and her orphaned sisters. Jazz is also surprised at the caste prejudice that she encounters as Indians who look different are treated better or worse according to their perceived caste. Then, too, Jazz is trying, as do many adolescent girls, to figure out her own attitude about her body, about whether she is attractive or not, what it is that makes a girl pretty, what others think about her looks and why. These more thoughtful parts of the novel come across as real without being preachy or over-emphasized.
If you’re looking for a good, solid story for your teenage girl that will hold her interest without being a problem-of-the-week novel or a trashy romance, Monsoon Summer fits the bill.