No easy answers
Will it have a fairy-tale ending? Saumya Balsari’s Summer Of Blue flirts deliciously with the idea of happy endings through most of the young-adult novel’s 206 pages.
To be sure, there’s a lot going on with Milly, the Indian protagonist of the story based in Cambridge, UK, and one can only imagine that the temptation to set everything right with her world must have been strong. Milly’s brother, a soldier in the British army, has gone missing in Afghanistan; she’s preparing for an interview at King’s College London at the end of the year and her sixth-form friends have several internal squabbles and jealousies that threaten to break their group apart. Of course, there’s the fair share of boy trouble in the 17-year-old’s life too. In managing all of these different plot threads, Balsari offers no easy answers—this must have taken a fair bit of mental callisthenics, especially since not everything goes according to plan for everyone involved.
Hanging out with friends, hook-ups and college admissions do take up a lot of the mind space of the teens who populate Summer Of Blue. And jealousies, competition and personal tiffs play out in the form of elaborate pranks, like when someone sends a “strippergram” to a formal party on the posh Queen’s College grounds venue that disrupts the well-planned event. But the characters are hardly vacuous cardboard cut-outs that could fit seamlessly in a frat novel. Balsari shows these same teens as by-and-large a well-read and intelligent set, capable of holding their own in a mature conversation. At least two characters in the book are directly affected by the conflict in Afghanistan and one comes from a family that lost property and loved ones in the revolution in Cuba. These teens grapple with the impact of international politics in their lives and learn to cope with the idea of loss.
The few glitches in the novel come mostly through some cringeworthy, even formulaic, phrases. Sample sentiments like “pain had no place in their plastic world” and “I would have followed him to the ends of the earth”, both spoken by Milly. At the other end of the spectrum are phrases that seem too laboured, and have the same effect of crimping an otherwise easy-to-read novel: “Now my head was still full of questions, like slimy, slippery eels climbing into a can.” And Milly’s descriptor of Mumbai: a city with its “leaky smell of money”.
The plot moves along at a fast clip, though the story doesn’t always take the turns you would normally expect. Summer Of Blue is a breezy read, one that we expect will keep you happily employed on a weekend indoors as it becomes scorching hot without.