Dear Aunty presents the thought processes of an extraordinarily ordinary middle schooler, Apoorva Joshi. In a style reminiscent of the Wimpy Kid series, down to the whimsical fonts and illustrations as well as the random capitalizations, Apoorva’s diary spans ten days, during which period her teacher assigns her the role of an undercover Agony Aunt to the class. In the process of solving the problems of her classmates, Apoorva also resolves her own. Sort of.
The diary has four main parts: the jokes that she and her best friend Avi volley with each other; Apoorva’s methodically organized notes on life and people; the narrative involving a new girl called Nisha who seems to threaten her friendship with Avi; and, of course, the problems that the children write to her about and their solutions.
The book is a delightful read, filled with pithy insights and sensible snippets on life presented with a generous dollop of humour. The writing is delightful, the language is fun and age-appropriate, the illustrations and doodles zany and cute. All the elements in this book come together brilliantly and beautifully.
One cannot help liking Apoorva as she works her way through the little and big dilemmas that plague children every day. We are happy for her as she revels in her success, albeit secret, as Dear Aunty. Her responses to the questions put by the class elicit a buzz of attention and murmurs of approval. However, while most of the problems that she is faced with are typical of the stuff that teens and tweens deal with, some are far more serious. For instance, there is a note from one child that mentions an evil child-molesting uncle. While Apoorva responds to the note with typically wonderful wisdom exhorting the child to confide in her parents or other elders, it might have been wise to also have her bring such issues up with the teacher. Otherwise, in this book as in life, it is easy to mix and muddle the facile with the deadly serious.
Apart from her rather natural jealous dislike of the sweet-voiced and bubbly Nisha that she openly describes and gamely handles, and the socially awkward situations that the adults often place her in, Apoorva appears to also have another issue that is not explicitly mentioned but is quite apparent – the elephant in the room of sorts, literally. Apoorva’s weight issues are brought out through the brilliant illustrations and the fact that while Avi’s jokes are always knock knock ones, hers are intractably elephant-based. She is also all set in the beginning to dislike Nisha if it turns out that she had a secret horde of fat girl jokes, which sadly she does not. One wishes that this weighty issue had been addressed head on like all the others, but perhaps it awaits a sequel.
A sequel would also resolve the last quibble that I had about this book – that it was way too short and I was done before I was ready to let go of Apoorva!
By Anandam Ravi
Author: Nandini Nayar
Illustrator: Lavanya Karthik
Mango Books, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Series