Young adult fiction is truly a difficult genre to write for. How adult can you be while writing for those who’ve just left childhood behind last year? Add to this the very grey area of younger “mature” readers and writing for this genre becomes a minefield, especially when dealing with explosive topics like divorce. And so, when I saw that Split dealt with the increasingly common situation of children impacted by divorce, I was intrigued. Along with the concept of an after-school programme to help them deal with their problems, which the story includes, it seemed like we had a Fault in Our Stars-like phenomenon waiting to happen.
With Split, author Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan creates a situation that could have been the perfect fit for hard-to-reach YA readers, the ready-to-be-adults-but-we-don’t-have-the-time groups of girls and boys who populate every city in the country. Noor, the protagonist, is a seventeen-something single child from a privileged family living in a posh part of Delhi. The setting of the novel is one of the most honest things about the author’s voice… it’s a world she knows and understands clearly and she doesn’t apologize for setting it there instead of middle-class Bhopal!
Noor is freshly a child of divorce. Her parents have split for reasons that emerge halfway through the story, leaving her with her father and a grandmother who has come to “look after her”. As Noor muddles her way through her confused emotions, changed life circumstances and living with a father who is becoming rapidly distant, we see how the different parts of her life come together… friends at school, a social life thrown into turmoil, a chance at love with a wonderful boyfriend, and a growing sense of the role her mother has played in her present situation. Noor navigates the difficult art of being nice and yet cool, finds out that living requires being considerate, does quite a bit of drinking, kissing and holding hands (not necessarily in that order) and learns a valuable lesson about friendship and character analysis.
What is well done about the book is that it never stoops to being overly sentimental and allows the different characters to have wonderful shades of grey without judging them for it. The author allows mothers and fathers to be human and have their hidden lives and loves, some selfish, others not, but none judged. We get a sensitive protagonist, gentle insights into life in modern India and the confusing things that youth throws our way.
Ah, where’s the ‘but’ in that sentence you ask? The ‘but…’ lies in that the author tries too hard in places and ends up making situations seem somewhat forced. Dealing with a topic like divorce after decades of being ‘happily married’ would have sufficed to make this a difficult book to write. Throw in some inter-religious familial friction, a life discovery journey, teenage romance, and sorority exclusion angst and it becomes almost impossible to extricate oneself from the storyline without losing some of the essence. The after-school support club and, in fact, school itself, seems an afterthought instead of being the lynchpin here. The conflict with the grandparent too could have been entirely avoided. And that’s what keeps Split from becoming the next YA sensation to being a book my twelve-year-old can dismiss with a shrug.
In the end though, what saves the book is the boyfriend in the wings. If seventeen-year-old me had met Ishaan, a boy full of light, hope and a moral compass beyond his age, I would be in love! If only the author had developed this character a lot more along with the after-school club, the book would definitely have been a five-starrer for me.
In conclusion, read Split for Ishaan, to briefly look at fractured lives, to get a glimpse into how socialite Delhi lives, to know what kinds of friends to avoid like the plague and to wonder why your school seemed to have so much more homework in Grade 12!
By Hema Vaidyanathan
Author: Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
Illustrator: Meena Rajasekaran
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/YA