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on September 2, 2006
I absolutely loved this book. Monsoon Summer is the story of 15-year-old Jasmine Carol Gardner, known as Jazz. Jazz is the product of her bulky, introverted white father and her petite, activist Indian-born mother. Genetically, and by her choices, Jazz takes mostly after her father, while her younger brother, Eric, resembles their mother. Their family is very close, however, with a strong sense of mutual loyalty. Thus when Jazz's mother wins a grant to go set up a clinic for pregnant women at the orphanage in India where she lived as a child, the whole family leaves California to go along for the summer.

Jazz is quite reluctant to go to India, however, mostly because of her newly-discovered, and undisclosed, love for her best friend, Steve. Jazz and Steve run a thriving business giving Berkeley tourists postcards of themselves in front of local landmarks and nostalgic activist signs. Jazz is worried about leaving Steve to run the business by himself, and even more worried about leaving him to the mercies of other girls from school. She can't imagine actually telling Steve how she feels, because she considers him so much more attractive and popular than herself, and she is sure that he would never be interested in her in that way. Still, she hates to leave him.

Most of the story takes place in the city of Pune, India, during the monsoon season, which many believe is a magical time. Jazz is at first quite resistant to the pull of India, and to the needs of the people around her. This is mostly due to her own self-doubt (and a little bit because of her obsession with Steve). The memory of a failed experiment in helping someone else, one in which her trust was betrayed, keeps her from wanting to get involved. But gradually, the monsoons work their magic on her, and she finds her over-protected heart expanding, as she becomes more brave and confident.

I think that Jazz's self-doubt and complete inability to think of herself as beautiful will resonate with anyone who is, or ever has been, a teenager. This authenticity makes Jazz's gradual transformation an inspiration. I think that this book could help teens to see themselves in a new light.

Jazz and her father both also evolve through the book from being fairly hands-off to being people who take an active part in helping others. Without being preachy about it, Monsoon Summer makes the reader want to get more involved, too. I'm not quite sure how Mitali Perkins manages that feat. I'm personally quite resistant to books that feel like they're promoting some larger agenda. I think that it works in this case because Perkins shows us how Jazz and her father react to a specific situation, rather than simply telling us that we should act in some particular way. All I know is that I cried at the end (in a good way).

I also liked the long-distance relationship between Jazz and Steve, sweet at times, realistically snippy at others. The descriptions of India, as seen through the eyes of someone raised in America, are eye-opening, without being overwhelming. And I liked the way that the author resists the temptation to wrap up every detail, leaving at least one issue unresolved. All in all, I enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it for teen readers. I also think that adults, especially those who are feeling a bit jaded about life, will find it a refreshing treat.

This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on September 2, 2006.
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on May 4, 2005
Some say that India's monsoon season creates "monsoon madness". Its magic drives some people crazy-insane but others crazy-I'll-do-things-I-never-would-have-otherwise-done. For 15-year-old Jasmine "Jazz" Carol Gardner, it's the latter.
This California girl's world is turned upside down when her family decides to go to India for the summer - to help out at the orphanage Mrs. Gardner started her life in. Though this trip may not have been Jazz's idea of a summer vacation, it's what she got. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins shows just how India's monsoon worked its magic on her.
When Jazz leaves Berkeley, California, her home, she also leaves her best friend and long-time crush, Steve Morales. With only long-distance phone calls and the occasional letter keeping them in touch, she worries something (not in the direction she wants) will happen to their relationship.
Reluctant to join her mother's good-doing, especially in an unfamiliar place like Pune, India, Jazz's summer starts out looking pretty bleak. As a 5'11" girl who's trapped inside because of the constant rain, she spends a lot of her time worrying about the problems in her life. Problems including her looks (hugeness) and lovesickness. That is, until she finally befriends Danita, a girl from the orphanage who cooks for the Gardner family and has some troubles of her own. Their friendship teaches Jazz that she really can help other people - and maybe herself too.
As this story unfolds you can't miss all the change India's monsoon brings upon a teenage girl and her family and friends. This realistic fiction novel is perfect for the teenage girl who wants to know just how to survive in this troublesome world.
(...)
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on November 24, 2004
Jazz resisted going to India for the summer with her family. Her mother, who was adopted by American parents had been born in India and had lived the first four years of her life in an orphanage. Now the mother was excited about returning to help the orphanage and the community around it with a medical clinic. However, Jazz had discovered her first love, her long time friend, Steve, and she yearned to stay at home and take care of the business that she and Steve had established.

The family packed up and moved to India during the Monsoon season. At first Jazz felt bitter and awkward, but she gradually started to feel comfortable. As the Monsoon brought new life to the land, Jazz discovered inner resources and contentment.

It was a pleasure to read a book with a family who cared about each other and who placed importance on family loyalty. The characters are well-written and appealing. Jazz may feel anxiety about the summer in India, she may consider herself a big unlovable girl, she may want to hide from the crowds who seem to have their eyes on her all the time, but she always comes across as someone who in the end will shine, and so she does. She scoffs at her mother's desire to give and help, but Jazz discovers that helping is part of her own personality, also.

Along with Jazz's adventures there is information about the people of India, how they dress, eat, live, and think. Danita, an orphaned girl that Jazz befriends, is determined to keep her two sisters with her, even if it means marrying a much older and physically repellant man. Danita and Jazz share their talents and make a difference in their lives.

Monsoon summer is touching and engrossing. I highly recommend it for those who want an easy to read and uplifting story about adjusting to another culture and discovering one's own self. The book is rated age 12 and up.
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on May 20, 2008
I'm not a huge YA chick lit fan, but I really enjoyed this book. The story is about a teenage girl from California named Jazz (short for Jasmine--she is half Indian) and her summer vacation at an orphanage in India. Jazz's mother was adopted at a very young age from the orphanage by American parents and wants to go back to find out more about her roots. Jazz is initially reluctant to travel to India because she has to leave behind her best-friend/crush Steve, but she eventually comes around. The story is sweet and the main character is likable from the get-go. The author does a great job of showing India from an American teenager's perspective (having gone to India myself as an American teenager). The ending was a little too optimistic to be believable but at least it was a happy one (phew!), which is almost essential in these kinds of books. I would highly recommend this as a fun summer read.
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on March 21, 2007
Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins is a mediocre teen novel. A young California girl, Jazz Gardner, leaves with her family on a summer vacation to India, during the magic monsoon season, for volunteer work. Throughout this book Jazz realizes how strong, generous, and desired she really is. This novel was not the best I've ever read. The author did not do a very good job of explaining the characters. I felt the characters made me bored and they rarely expressed, or showed any emotions. In Monsoon Summer there was not an exhilirating climax, nor a great ending. The plot of this teen novel did not capture my interests. I felt the need to stop reading the book after several chapters, but I don't like to abandon a book halfway through it. Monsoon Summer did not meet my expectations of a wonderful book.
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on October 18, 2004
Jasmine (Jazz) is leaving a lot behind to go to India for the sumemr with her parents. She's got a lucrative business taking photos of tourists, and a best friend and business partner that she's secretly been in love with for a while now. But her parents, ever altruistic, have a grant to work at the orphanage in Pune where her mother grew up. Immersed in the steamy weather of monsoon season, Jazz faces Indian private school, an evolving long-distance relationship, charity and caste systems.
Jazz is an immensely likable protagonist, even when she's feeling sorry for herself, and the tangible detail of moonsoon season in India combined with a complex, engaging cast of characters makes this one book I'd recommend to anyone who wants something with more depth than Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, but none of the grinding despair of most of the latest crop of teen realism.
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on September 23, 2004
Immediatly I was drawn in and felt a kinship with Jazz(short for Jasmine), a bright and creative young woman who, like most of us, doesn't see her own beauty. I got to really know Jazz, her family and friends on her trip to India. It was encouraging to see Jazz find joy in her life as she focused on the needs of others in the Indian orphanage that was her mother's first home. The sweet love story between Jazz and her best friend Steve warmed my heart and made me cry happy tears. I didn't want the book to end - I want to know what happens next. I've already bought a few copies for young friends - I suggest you do the same.
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on November 30, 2013
This story is a must read. This book is the kind of book that makes you want to read it on your electronic kindle and take a bath at the same time. This book is so good I can almost smell the curry right now!
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on August 24, 2010
When fifteen-year-old Jazz Gardner discovers she's going to spend the summer in India with her family she is not happy about it at all. She has a thriving business in San Francisco with her best friend Steve, and she can't imagine leaving either one for three months. She's certain one of the other girls from school will make a move while she's gone and claim Steve's heart before she even tells him how much he means to her.

When she arrives in the town where her mother was born and adopted from the orphanage, she's determined not to get involved in helping out in any way. All she wants to do is pass the time while she counts the days until she goes home. But her encounters with the people, and a little bit of monsoon madness, just may convince her she's got something to contribute after all.

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins is a great book for mother-daughter book clubs. Jazz is an independent girl whose parents are very much involved in her life. She constantly compares herself to her mother, and often feels she's lacking. This book can generate great discussions on finding and believing in your own strengths, working to help others, trusting people and having the courage to say what you're feeling. Perkins has an excellent mother-daughter book club discussion guide at her website, [...]. Here's just one of the questions that may provoke great discussion:

"What's the most risky thing you've tried when it comes to helping someone else? Did it work?" I highly recommend Monsoon Summer for book clubs with girls aged 10 and up.
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on April 23, 2008
I've read all of Mitali's books, and I love this portrait of Jasmine Gardner . This is a beautiful story of a wonderful change in Jazz's life, brought about by a summer trip to India.
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