Bareilly to Beverly Hills is the journey sixteen-year-old Shalini Agarwal makes when her father moves to a new job in Los Angeles. And that journey, along with the changes it brings for Shalini and her family, is what Kavita Daswani's 'Lovetorn' is about.
This book reads like the script of a dozen Hollywood films. Teen heroine moves to new town and new school, is targeted by the hip clique, is attracted to the cutest boy within a five-mile radius. Of course, Shalini Agarwal is smart, academically ahead of her class, well-mannered and a domestic goddess in the making. In Bareilly, ideal. In LA, not so much. Yes, nothing's changed since Cinderella. Shalini needs a makeover before she can fit in, like every Cinderella worth her glass slipper.
Daswani insists though, that Shalini is "owning who she is" by threading her eyebrows and not, as it appears, selling out to the mainstream. And just to give her that extra edge, Shalini joins a school group working to help women in third-world countries. Ironic that the Bareilly girl in California discovers herself while working on projects to aid Nepali women, but there it is. In any case, Shalini not only discovers herself but also a cute flute-playing American boy. Flute, get it? Like Krishna. It seems you can take our heroine out of Bareilly but not Bareilly out of our heroine.
Daswani attempts to darken the book's bubblegum-pink universe by adding a clinically depressed mother and a childhood engagement. It works, to a certain extent. The narrative is true to character and Shalini does seem credible- we've all known earnest, hardworking Shalinis and I suppose it's good to know they can be lovetorn too. However the ending, almost like our heroine, is too good to be true. After pages of agonising, Daswani may seem in a hurry to get to the happily-ever-after but I'd say the tissue-thin plot had been stretched already as far as possible.
I did expect more from an author whose writing has appeared in publications like Vogue India, International Herald Tribune, LA Times and Conde Naste Traveller. The boys in Shalini's life are sketchily drawn: we'd expect more from Vikram, the dream guy who loves her despite her unibrow and distant emails. And if Vikram appears lifeless, Toby, the dashing flute-playing senior, could be a cardboard cutout for all we are told of his feelings.
A Google search sheds light on a few puzzles. The American edition of the book pegs Shalini's hometown as Bangalore instead of Bareilly, obviously a city American readers would have at least heard of. Viewing Daswani's book now as one meant primarily for American readers, or at least Indian-American readers, several things make more sense. The stress on culture and religion for one, and the details about Indian cooking. For readers in India though, these don't add much to the book- we'd probably have enjoyed some Hollywood flavour instead.
Lovetorn is a quick, pacy read but by no means a memorable one. Your Facebook wall would probably provide more food for thought.
Title: Lovetorn; Author: Kavita Daswani; Pages: 256; Publisher: HarperTeen; Genre: Teen