Monday, April 27, 2015

Ashwathy and the Boot of God

Ashwathy and the Boot of God
Written by Sowmya Rajendran
Published in Puffin books by Penguin Books India
Ages 12+

"When Ashwathy first saw the boot, sticking out of a pile of leaves, she thought she'd discovered a dead body." With a beginning like this, the story could have gone anywhere. The fact that despite thinking it might belong on a dead body, the 14 year old Ashwathy pokes around, and is piqued enough to investigate it when it lands up in their cowshed, supposedly carried in from a place where the cow would not have been able to enter when she came back from grazing, is enough to tell us that our protagonist is no ordinary girl. She's smart, curious, intelligent enough to figure things out, and as we find out, resourceful enough to get to the bottom of things.

So what are these things? The boot belongs to God. And not your ordinary 'staying in the temple, requiring pujas with flowers and coconuts' kind of God, but a sparkly-eyed, fashionably attired God who often changed her hairstyle and decided to go on dates with interesting people. Yes, you read that right. God here, is not the default male, but a woman.

There had been a death in the neighbourhood. Sreeja, a married woman, was said to have committed suicide, having recently been diagnosed with cancer. Sreeja, however, had complained to God that she had been murdered, and asked for her help. God wants Ashwathy's help in solving the case. So how does Ashwathy rise to the occasion? What does she do to find out what really happened? It is a quick, breathtaking read to find out.

Sowmya Rajendran has taken the whodunit genre by the boot ... err... horns, and produced a gem of a book. Not only does it keep us enthralled by the fast paced murder mystery, it also gives us a work of fiction rooted in small town Kerala, a town within daily commuting distance of a major city, with very believable, very Indian characters. And that is no mean feat. Then there is the demolition of stereotypes done in the author's trademark humour (I loved the way she puts things). God is a She, who pooh-poohs the idea of a prayer-and-coconut-breaking-routine of wooing God. Ashwathy is an atheist, even if she is recruited by God, and she is encouraged in her beliefs by her father who dreams big for his daughter despite social pressure to go the other way. One can only imagine the possibilities. And then there is that little thing about Ashwathy confronting a sexually abusive teacher at school. Very impressive.

The resident teen is impressed too. "All those quirky details about God - she went on a date with a Frenchman? There's a screensaver on her photograph when she takes off for some reason? God asks what's wrong with living in a boot? God has a cousin in another universe, who she calls Captain America?" Clearly a hit with the target age group.

The title seems to be nod to J. K. Rowling's series of books, and the plot a nod to Blyton's Five Find-Outers and Dog. We hope that this, too, will be a series -- the Boot of God is still with Ashwathy, even though the photograph is in screensaver mode, as we turn the last page and close the book with a satisfied sigh.

Image courtesy goodreads.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher; the opinions expressed in this review are, however, my own.



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