Told by a teen narrator who happens to be half Indian-American, Scholastic Press’ upcoming novel ‘Damselfly’ by author Chandra Prasad unfolds a story that is both exciting and complex in its telling. It kept me glued to the pages till the end in one sitting, and I’m far from being a a ‘Young Adult’.
The stage is set on a seemingly uninhabited island, where a plane carrying a group of teen fencers from an elite private school, crashes. The motley group of survivors includes the narrator, Indian-American Samantha Mishra, of “mixed” descent, whose balanced gaze but very human failings are juxtaposed with the “mean girl” Rittika who is an American of purely Indian origin.
The group learns to live together but without giving too much away, things soon begin to fall apart.
Prasad’s strength lies in breaking stereotypes over and again to keep readers on their toes – about the not-so-model “mixed” Indian-Caucasian family; the Hispanic member of the group; the high school jock; the girl with depression symptoms. It also tells a gripping tale of fear, folly, smarts, incest, you name it, that teens cope with, suffer, and learn to live with less, in an alien environment where wits and deviousness compete with reason and goodness. While the juxtaposition of good and evil may not sound that different from many novels, Prasad weaves a more nuanced web.
Prasad told News India Times she is “mixed” American herself and her two sons do not look Indian though they are exposed to Indian culture and relate to it in many ways. “Identity politics—always interesting, always complicated!” Prasad said.
Asked why she chose a “mixed” Indian-Caucasian teen as the narrator, she said it was “because multiracial characters are VERY underrepresented in literature, and especially in young adult literature.”
She has also brought out another publication, “Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience.”
“It is extremely important for kids to be able to relate to literary characters and to be able to “see themselves” in the books they read,” Prasad told News India Times. The publishing world is making strides to better represent Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans, she noted, “but “mixed” characters are often still shuffled into one of these categories, if they are noted at all.”
Prasad feels strongly that this has got to change also because the mixed-race population is “exploding” in America. She quotes statistics from the U.S. Census which show that overall, while the total U.S. population increased by 9.7 percent since 2000, many multiple-race groups increased by 50 percent or more. “and it is the responsibility of the literary community to keep apace.”
“As a mixed-race author, I’ve made a promise to myself to include multiracial characters in every book I write from here on in,” she said pointing to two other characters in ‘Damselfly’ who are also of mixed-race.
About breaking several stereotypes even while juxtaposing the narrator of mixed Indian heritage with the Indian-origin girl Rittika, Prasad said she was not trying to make any kind of sweeping statement about race. “but I did intentionally want to throw cold water on the usual stereotypes about Indians. I definitely believe all stereotypes, even the so-called positive ones (like how Indians and other Asians are supposed to be “the model minority”) are harmful in the long run because they strip people of nuance, individuality, and distinctiveness,” Prasad said.
“Prasad deftly builds on familiar themes while also exploring issues like race, mental health, and the toxicity of teenage queen bees… A fun and compelling novel, one that is sure to attract a wide range of readers,” said the School Library Connection in its review.
And Booklist described it as “a compulsive read,” one where “Ethics balance on a knife’s edge as the characters make difficult choices and adapt to their new reality.”
Without revealing more of the intriguing tale, suffice it to say, Prasad seems to want to show that whether a person is observant, caring, and empathetic, or the epitome of perfection – beautiful, accomplished, popular, and wealthy — not that the two are mutually exclusive, stereotypes are best forgotten.
“In Damselfly, Indian Americans are complex individuals who cannot be easily pinned-down—in other words, they are the opposite of stereotypical,” Prasad told News India Times.
This is Prasad’s first young adult novel. The Connecticut resident who is a Yale University graduate and a Fellow at one of Yale’s residential colleges, previously wrote novels for adults, including, Mixed; and On Borrowed Wings, a historical drama set in early 20th century New Haven; Breathe the Sky, a fictionalized account of Amelia Earhart’s last days; and Death of a Circus, which Booklist called “Richly textured [and] packed with glamour and grit.” Prasad’s shorter works have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. She is currently working on additional young adult novels.
For more on Chandra Prasad’s books and other writing, visit:www.chandraprasad.com