Indian Young Adult fiction is reflective of its readership – hormonal, inconsistent and a while away from coming of age. The key problem authors face is catering to a generation brought up, simultaneously, on two different cultures: One that watches Pretty Little Liars and the Vampire Diaries but finds it hard to string a proper sentence. Revathi Suresh captures this well in her first novel, Jobless Clueless Reckless. The book tells the story of Kavya, a teenage girl living a bizarre fishbowl existence in a gargantuan apartment complex in Bangalore with her eccentric single mother, a dopey yet lovable younger brother, and the ghost of a girl who disappeared when she was very young.
Since it’s a coming-of-age novel, we are dropped into Kavya’s life as she scrambles her way through her daily routine; the story is told from her point of view. Much like her aimless days in their apartment complex named after global cities (708, Kansas, Grand Canyon, Bangalore, India, that’s her address!), the beginning of the book too lacks direction. For a novel catering to a young, impatient mind, there is a big risk of losing the reader quite early. But once you plod your way through the first few chapters, Kavya’s story begins to come to life with Suresh’s skilful character building and the young girl’s smart inner voice. We start to care about her motley crew of friends – Indu, Niya, Lara, and the hunky Kiran. We want to hug her little brother Dhrittiman a.k.a. Ditto and smack the mother silly until she sees sense.
The book works best when we’re inside Kavya’s mind. For a girl so young, she seems articulate, witty and terribly perceptive. When talking about Manisha, her first best friend who went away, she says, almost like an adult, “Now she’s a ghost who creeps in and out of my mind.” Just like us, it seems she too is unsure if Manisha is real or imaginary. Her descriptions are vivid. “Ma’s so tense now, I can practically hear her vibrate.” Of the mother of her cook, she says, “She smiles a lot though, looking like some Dracula granny with two thin bloody rivers running down the sides of her mouth.”
What lets the book down, however, is the dialogue, which is often clunky and awkward. Yes, teenagers are awkward, but it’s unlikely you’ll find one that says, “What’s with that jacket, Pooh? You leading an Expotition to the North Pole?” Only if you know of the Winnie-the-Pooh story and the play on the word ‘expedition’ are you likely to get it right.
But even the dialogue can’t get in the way of what is a poignant story of a girl who’s life is spinning so out of her own control, that fitting in is the least of her worries. Suresh manages to capture Kavya’s sadness in just a sentence, “But there are all these questions and no answers. I blink hard and put my head against the window and nod off.” All she wants is to be taken care of and to go to school, which is a great theme for a young adult novel; it elevates schooling beyond just an education without ever getting preachy. The book also lays bare the differing attitudes towards formal schooling and challenges certain notions that both teenagers and adults might have about nature versus nurture. I was pleasantly taken aback by the bad language the characters use, which is authentic, but might put some parents off.
Jobless Clueless Reckless might lack a plot line, but brings to a life a story of an endearing teenager who’s completely lost, something that is very likely to resonate with a lot of young adults today.
By Reshma Krishnan
JOBLESS CLUELESS RECKLESS
Author: Revathi Suresh
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Young Adult