Om Shanti, Babe by Helen Limon
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2012. ISBN 9781847803573
(Age: 11 - 14) Highly recommended. This is a delightful novel on many levels as a light touch of humour embellishes a story about family, friendship and the environment. Whilst it is a deserved winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices award, it is not a didactic book for the many strands of the story are woven together quite skilfully and with an entertaining flavour.
Cassia is lonely and unhappy and feels the world is against her. She has lost her best friend before flying out to India and it appears she is also about to lose her Mum to a new boyfriend. Whilst Cassia thought that Bollywood had taught her all she needed to know about India she soon learns that the reality of India is quite different. One of Helen Limon's talents is that she allows the reader to both laugh at Cassia but also to sympathise with her, as Cassia realises that she has been so self-absorbed that she has not seen the world for what it is, she has only seen her version of it.
It is delightful to read a novel for young teens where parents are not conveniently absent, but rather are front and centre. Cassia finds that both her parents and their friends can provide her with support and guidance as she struggles to make sense of her world. As the story unfolds, it is also telling that both Cassia and her new friend, Priyanka, learn that mother-daughter relationships can cause angst regardless of where you are born!
Frequent references to the Rumer Godden novel The Peacock Spring add an extra layer to this witty and entertaining novel and emphasise the substance beneath the surface. The candle factory thread of the story may stretch the credibility a tad, but given the intended readership, it adds a sense of adventure which seems appropriate.
All in all, this is a charming novel.