We asked some people who we know read a lot of Indian children’s and YA books to tell us about one (or more) really impressive book they read this year. We will be posting their replies over the rest of the month.
Anupam Arunachalam is a writer of comic books and other things. And stuff.
My favorite children’s book this year is The Adventures of Stoob: Testing Times, by Samit Basu (Red Turtle).
The first in what is to be a series of books featuring the titular character, Testing Times is about Stoob squaring off against the biggest exam of his life.
Samit Basu has always worn his influences on his sleeve, unselfconsciously riffing off books, movies and video games that he presumably loves. In some ways, this story might be a bit of an homage to Adrian Mole, Wimpy Kid and other children’s books, but I think it could hold its own among those popular favorites.
Stoob, the protagonist, is a sincerely written character. He thinks and acts like a real person, without the contrived irony or hysterics that have become common among characters in funny stories. In the ironclad class V social structure, he’s a middle of the pack student, with academic ambitions (like most indian kids) and various interests. When he exaggerates for comedic effect, he seems aware of what he’s doing. All this makes him feel pretty real.
A lot of the other characters are staples from school stories, but Basu gives us glimpses of some interesting personalities of the rare variety – like the hippie guitar teacher whose house smells funny, the rich, street-smart dad who encourages his kid to bend the rules a little, the teenage ideological rebel who’s leading a mini-revolution that rejects a flawed education system – and none of them are judged black or white.
Coming from a tradition of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Samit Basu has a knack for cool visuals, and I think the best example of this is when he turns a teenager’s basement into a veritable underground lair, with no exaggeration whatsoever.
All this is backed by a strong plot that’s centered around the big exam that Stoob’s class has to take at the end of the year. The book depicts exam angst accurately, and I found myself reliving some of my most intense middle school days. The main arc – A Top Secret Plan to ace the exams without studying – has more of a politically correct conclusion than I would have hoped for, but it pays off with a great sequence at the end.
Sunaina Coelho’s loose, energetic illustrations are fantastically clever and often hilarious, and add another dimension to the book.
It’s one of those books that kids’ll probably enjoy most aspects of, but which adults will appreciate at another level. And, if you ask me, those are the best kind.