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Awkward age

Early on in Ranjit Lal‘s Miracles, the heroine laments a young man’s lack of chest hair. In an age where Karan Johar inflicts the waxed torsos of Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan upon us, that alone was enough to endear the book to me.

Miracles is about 16-year-old Trisha, her annoying little sister, her single mother, and how Trisha finds love, fulfilment, and personal growth after a change of neighbourhood and school. It is also a story of terminal cancer, being abandoned by God, underage sex (which, thanks to changes in law, now counts as statutory rape and could get one of the characters hauled up before a juvenile court), and a grandparent who commits domestic abuse. Yet, the blurb calls it a “heart-warming coming-of-age story". Remarkably, the book does deliver on this promise.

Miracles is also richly filled in with details but doesn’t let them become tedious. The style is cheerfully assured. So we find a romance wrapped around a coming-of-age story, which, in turn, surrounds a gloomier plot about death and the cruelty of chance.

Miracles is uncompromising in not giving Trisha a bailout from her problems. Rather, it pins the blame for these troubles on random bad luck, instead of on karmic responsibility or personified evil. Trisha is afraid that her mother’s agonizing illness is a punishment for Trisha’s having had sex with her boyfriend, a belief that is called out as nonsense by her friends, and which she herself eventually rejects—along with her trust in God—but happily, that is made up for by new-found self-belief.

I’m pleasantly surprised that anybody at all has written a book that not only suggests that if there is a God, it doesn’t really care about our happiness; but that even with an absent or uncaring God, life can be pretty great. That this is a book being marketed to young adults adds an extra layer of endearing chutzpah. By dismissing the idea that teen sex has horrible consequences, Lal’s chutzpah may have extended to mocking that teen pop culture staple of an earlier generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which having sex would literally create monsters.

The book isn’t perfect. Trisha’s boyfriend Akshay calls her “babe" throughout, which I found grating. Also, the story revolves around Trisha’s development from one who’s scared of taking decisions or doing anything new to being a 17-year-old who runs a house by herself while her mother is in hospital. Considering that in the beginning she’s terrified of paying a restaurant bill, it seems odd that by the middle of the book, Trisha deviously convinces her family to take a vacation to the hills so that she can be with her boyfriend.

I couldn’t quite accept how poorly Trisha’s sister Shivi is characterized, and how Trisha herself is a little too good to be true. In the course of the book, it turned out that she could ride a Bullet, sing jazz, was a spin bowling savant, and topped the boards, while coping with grief and unexpected responsibility.

But while I did occasionally raise my eyebrows at such imperfections, I loved the book in spite of its flaws, which never overshadow the confidence of the storytelling.

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