From the moment Nina tells you she can write, draw, paint, figure things out and blow things up, you know you are in for an adventure. With a kid who has enough sass in her to make you laugh, shake your head or turn the volume up to drown her out… depending on your state of mind. Of course Nina the Philosopher is funny and entertaining, but only if you avoid imagining her as a real person.
This first book in the Nina the Philosopher series is a fun read. In the style of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Nina finds herself a slightly bewildered participant in the usual pre-teen shenanigans. Such as blowing up the school swimming pool. Or in a battle of wits against her class teacher. Only to emerge with a slightly bruised ego and a philosophical statement to sum it all up. In a sense, Nina is typical of a child from a single parent family. Kids like Nina and her older sister often have to grow up too soon, and that’s where this sweet-sour little book becomes poignant – in the most non-self-sympathetic manner. Nina struggles with being the eleven-year-old kid that she is, and the wise-beyond-her-years woman-in-the-making who wants to see her mother happy. She is often torn, often upset, but always, always sees the philosophical side with a little help from her good friend, Bright Light God, and ends up doing the right thing. Even if that means putting up with a certain noxious gent called Diddy Blood, who wants to marry her mother.
Fiercely brandishing the mantle and weapons of family protector, Nina wages quiet war against Diddy Blood and his evil spawn, Polka Dot. She also expresses her opinions on her fourteen-year-old sister’s teenage rebellion, her mother’s best friend from college Ashwin Uncle who still comes around to keep an eye on them, and her mother’s ongoing rebellion against her own parents. And seeing this set of shenanigans through her eyes is droll and undeniably smile-inducing! Readers should look out for the absolutely awesome badass kid called Akaash, who is the perfect yang to Nina’s yin. Smart, gutsy and devil-may-care, he is the best friend every precocious girl ought to have.
Judy Balan’s book is a simple, breezy read, and relevant to young readers who think they know more than adults. With its simple wisdom, humour and classic ‘coming of age’ formula, the series shows definite potential if the author can manage to keep her protagonist from becoming another wimpy kid and also try somewhat less to be ‘cool’. Diddy Blood and Polka Dot are slightly unbelievable, especially when it comes to scenes like him singing a song at Nina’s school composed for her mother.
All in all, a good pick for kids who enjoy movies like The Parent Trap, Look Who’s Talking and stories in that mould.
By Itisha Peerbhoy
Author: Judy Balan
Illustrator: Priyanka Shyam
HarperCollins India, 2014
Subject category: Contemporary/Fiction/Series/YA