Book review

Two Young Adult queer novels: a rare blend of sensitivity and humour

An LGBT perspective on two Young Adult novels about teenagers coming out of the closet: Himanjali Shankar’s ‘Talking of Muskaan’, and Payal Dhar’s ‘Slightly Burnt’.

The self is an emerging proposition.  To discern and explore the self through the looking glass of sexuality, desire, class and personal identity based on powerful experiences and influences at a young age is a prodigious feat in contemporary times.

Adolescence, especially, needs such references when everything around seems idiosyncratic and painful. There are many young people who struggle with alternate sexual and gender orientation, and do not know what to do about it. I hope that more authors write about such things with the same sensitivity and humour that are evident in the two novels for young adults, Talking of Muskaan, and Slightly Burnt.

Himanjali Sankar’s Talking Of Muskaan explores what happens when a young woman is trying to break free of heteronormative structures and is seeking acceptance. It is a delicate, intimate narrative of three teenagers – Aaliya, Prateek and Shubhojay. Each of them narrates his or her own story, the style involving the use of anecdotes that offer their perspective on Muskaan and their attempts to make sense of the situation.

Through these voices, the author channels thoughts about isolation, class-political issues, biases, and all manners of prejudice. It is interesting to see the presentation of the power of intimate relationships to bring about change in a person. It is possible to perceive this as the process of either becoming one’s own self or of losing oneself in the resultant whirlwind.

Shifting narratives

The book shifts narratives and steers clear of a linear timeline, which is precisely what keeps the reader enamoured. The themes of adolescence and the angst it carries are touched upon consummately. In our everyday life, we often come across conversations about class and privilege, bemoaning the fact that people belonging to a particular class tend to get away with anything. However, this novel reflects the cruelty of the world, which doesn’t leave anyone uninjured.

Talking of Muskaan is as much about the casual cruelties we inflict on people who are not like us - whose sexuality, or class, or background is different from our own ‒ as it is about the desire to feel rooted and understood by those close to us. The novel unfolds the delicate confessions of young minds in a sensitive yet mannered way. Nevertheless, I wish the author had unraveled the character of Muskaan a little more.

The witty, snarky Slightly Burnt by Payal Dhar is something of a contrast. Dhar gets into the skin of what it is to be an adolescent and to have to deal with all things adult. The story tracks two close friends, Komal and Sahil, with Komal being the narrator. Both of them go to a new-age, progressive school where there are no exams and students are encouraged to talk about their feelings and their secrets. Everything is hunky dory until Sahil comes out to his friend, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

Unlike in many novels that deal with homosexuality either through anguish or wisdom, Komal is seen taking a very organic route to understand and accept the facts about her friend. This story is not told in linear fashion either, and that is one of the things I loved about it. Refreshingly, it neither sentimentalises nor romanticises teenage or adulthood.

Undercurrents of desire

Indeed, Dhar has this uncanny ability to show things for what they are. If the characters are hurt, then the reader feel it. If they are happy, the readers rejoice in their moments. Slightly Burnt is an enjoyable novel that does a fascinating job of describing the notions of normal and abnormal, and the undercurrents of desire, with details and grace that are nowhere close to being ordinary.

Growing-up and adulthood are both dealt with delicately, without over-handling either. The characters shine through the entire book. There is not a single line or situation which should not have been a part of the story.

What I love most about both these novels is the honesty with which they have been written. They are all about being you and carrying on regardless of how life works out in the end. I firmly believe that everyone who has a teenager around must read and gift them these books.

Talking of Muskaan, Himanjali Shankar, Duckbill Books.
Slightly Burnt, Payal Dhar, Bloomsbury.

Priya Gangwani is the editor of The Gaysi Zine and a core member of Gaysi Family, a blog for queer desis.



We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

These GIFs show you what it means to miss breakfast

That monstrous roar is your empty stomach.

Let’s take a glance at your every day morning routine. You crawl out of bed, go for a quick shower, pull out and wear your neatly ironed clothes at the speed of light and then rush out of the house, making sure you have your keys and wallet in place.

Giphy
Giphy

You walk into office, relieved because you have made it to work on time. Stifling yawns and checking emails, you wonder how your colleagues are charged up and buzzing with energy. “What is wrong with these people” you mumble to yourself.

Giphy
Giphy

Slowly, you start to change. You start snapping at colleagues and start arguing with your computer. You take out your frustration on anything or anyone in sight.

To add to the aggressive behaviour, you’ve completely lost your focus. After some time, you simply forget what you were doing.

Giphy
Giphy

Unable to bear the hunger pangs, you go for a mid-morning snack. It is only when a colleague asks you for a bite do you realize that you have developed into a fully formed, hunger fueled, monster. Try not to look at yourself in the mirror.

Giphy
Giphy

If only you had spared not even twenty or ten but just 5 minutes in the morning and not skipped breakfast, your story would look completely different - as you will see in this video.

Play

The fast dip in your mood and lack of focus is because your body has missed its most important meal of the day – breakfast. Research has shown that skipping a meal, especially in the morning, worsens the mood because there is a drop in the blood sugar. This in turn affects the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals produced in the brain that control our moods and feelings. In simpler English, not having breakfast is going to make you really cranky and confused!

Morning is also when the body needs maximum nutrition to function efficiently through the day as you’ve just woken up from a full 7 hours of no food (and if you’re sleeping less than that, that’s a whole other article).

So in short, having a breakfast could make you go from looking like the earlier GIFs to this:

Giphy
Giphy

But with changing lifestyles and most people hard pressed for time, a healthy breakfast is taking the backseat. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. MTR has come up with a range of widely loved Indian delicacies like Poha, Upma and Halwa which can be made in (hold you breath) just 3 minutes! All you have to do is add hot water and wait for 3 minutes to get a delicious and filling breakfast.

Giphy
Giphy

These amazing and delicious breakfasts can be made in a jiffy and consumed with the least hassle, even in the midst of your frenetic morning routine. So grab your #MTRbreakfastin3 to start the day on an awesome note.

Click here to make breakfast a part of your morning routine.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of MTR and not by the Scroll editorial team.