Wednesday, May 01, 2013

'Jobless, Clueless, Reckless' by Revathi Suresh

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless
by Revathi Suresh
Publisher: Duckbill
Ages : YA

Let me say at the outset that ‘Jobless, Clueless, Reckless’, Revathi Suresh’s debut novel  had me hooked at page one. Starring – and narrated by- possibly the surliest teenager to feature in Indian YA fiction in a while, ‘Jobless..’ examines the trials and tribulations of being fifteen, female and friendless in the age of Facebook, with wit, a great eye for detail and a sound ear for teenspeak . It also gives us a terrific narrator – articulate, foul-mouthed Kavya, Bengaluru’s own Holden Caulfield , hiding her insecurities behind her acerbic wit and mildly goth wardrobe.   Revathi writes well; she peoples her book with believable characters , slips in all kinds of clever literary references and ensures that the pace of the book  stays at a brisk canter .

Kavya , at first, second and third glance, sounds like your average teenager -  angst-ridden, perennially miserable, lovestruck, whiny , and wanting nothing more than  to “..scratch (her) life out and start over.”  She lives in a pretentious neighbourhood in Bangalore, endures emotionally distant parents and a precocious brother, and can’t seem to make any friends. It doesn’t help that she is homeschooled,  has a penchant for dressing in black and a reputation as a slayer of Barbies and, quite possibly, little kids as well.  But gradually, through the barrage of cuss words and sneering descriptions of the people around her,  the other Kavya emerges – the intelligent, sensitive and bewildered girl, struggling to find some structure in a life her self-absorbed mother seems determined to destroy.  She mirrors the rage and alienation of her literary icon, Holden Caulfield. And like him, she is also a bit of a hypocrite, desperate for the companionship  of the very people she claims to despise. These range from the uber-cool Lara and Niya to supposed “sad behenji” Indu, whose double life as an under dressed party girl is an open secret, thanks to Facebook and the neighbourhood drivers’ grapevine.  Ironically, Kavya resents being the subject of gossip, but has no trouble  treating Indu and her friend Kinky with much the same disdain her friends show her. This, however, doesn’t stop her from joining them at a local disco, with a little light shop- lifting thrown in on the side. Rescued by Kiran, her secret crush, she finds herself forced to reconsider her feelings for him when he asks her for ‘compensation’.

‘Jobless..’ ,makes for great reading, and Kavya, for all her grouchiness and attitude, is a character you can’t help rooting  for. I think it is a measure of how much I liked Kavya that I felt let down by the ending. I know I wanted this book to be about Kavya finding her place in the world on her own terms, facing up to the friends and authority figures she has issues with and finding some sort of closure on the tragic loss of her childhood friend.  The last does happen to some extent; the rest, however, seem hastily brushed away in favour of a romantic ending that is miles from the gritty realism the first half of the book sets us up for. In fact, the book touches on quite a number of issues - - the emotional disconnect between Kavya and her parents, an exceptionally troubled relationship with her mother, a yearning for some sense of structure and belonging, teen pregnancy, sexual harassment.  None of these are dealt with satisfactorily.   Not to sound like a fuddy duddy here, but surely at fifteen,  starting some sort of dialogue about these issues is a great deal more important than the prospect of finding undying love with the blue-eyed college boy next door . Especially one who gets away with saying things like "Girls often say 'no' when they mean 'yes'" as well as several other variations on the "She was asking for it" hypothesis?  After all, the a gazillion teenybopper romances already exist;  honest books about real problems - not exactly raining down from the skies, are they? And books that tell you to stand up for yourself, even if it means heartbreak - well, don't hold your breath, ok?

 I was also dismayed at the condescending treatment of two strong, if flawed, female characters in the book – Kavya’s mother and Indu. And I couldn’t help but notice that both these characters are replaced, in Kavya’s life, by patronizing, even sexist male characters that she has little trouble accepting. Strangely enough, the book does have a couple of very interesting - and positive - male characters. There is Dhritiman, Kavya's brother with his love for sewing and the colour pink. And there is Vinay, possibly the one member of Kavya's circle who treats her well. Sadly, neither of them gets much airtime.

I know this is a work of fiction, and not the next feminist manifesto.  Yes, teenagers have every right to escapist fare. And yes, writers have undisputed autonomy on the fates of their characters too. But surely a character as strong and distinctive - not to mention rare in Indian fiction - as Kavya deserved a more empowering finale than the one she receives here? This is, after all, a girl swearing allegiance to Scout Finch and Holden Caulfield – why abruptly abandon her in vintage Mills and Boon terrain?

Would I recommend 'Jobless...'? Certainly. it's fresh, funny and heartbreaking all at once, and definitely worth a read. If  romance is your poison, this book will not disappoint.


Meera said...

Excellent, balanced review.

sathish said...

WJ, lovely review!

I am bit intrigued that some one would swear allegiance to both Scout Finch and Holden Caulfield! I thought it would usually be either one of them!

Choxbox said...

Brill review WJ. Will pick this up and I admit publicly read it first before passing it on to the newly minted teen.

Choxbox said...

Brill review WJ. Will pick this up and I admit publicly read it first before passing it on to the newly minted teen.

the mad momma said...

Fabulous review WJ.

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