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Coming of Age and All that Jazz!



Canadian author Natasha Deen was born in Guyana and immigrated to Canada where she has become a prize winning author of books for children, teens, and adults. She has both an innate talent for storytelling and the gift for introducing her passion to others, in schools, libraries, and other organizations. Her motto, ‘Change the world one story at a time.’ She has published nineteen books to date! Natasha lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

The gift for character development is apparent from page one as Natasha introduces both her primary character Nira and her ‘friend’ McKenzie: “”The cow’s eyeball floats in the formaldehyde. It’s disembodied a part cut off from the whole, just like me, but there’s a difference between me and the orb. It stares out at the kids as though it knows the secret the rest of us are dying to find out. McKenzie catches me looking at the jar. “Are you offended?” ‘What?” “We killed a cow. Are you mad at us or something? Aren’t they sacred to your people whatever?” “I’m not Hindi,” I tell her for what must be the millionth time. “It’s pronounced ‘offended.’” She slows down the last word and says it louder, like I’m both illiterate and deaf. Smiles, then glowers when I don’t smile back. “No one’s trying to hurt your feelings. We just like burgers.” And right there is the reason that when I graduate high school, I’m taking off to a university that’s light-years away from this town.’ So much of the essence of this fine novel is shared in that conversation.

The story is well distilled in the synopsis: ‘Nira Ghani has always dreamed of becoming a musician. Her Guyanese parents, however, have big plans for her to become a scientist or doctor. Nira's grandmother and her best friend, Emily, are the only people who seem to truly understand her desire to establish an identity outside of the one imposed on Nira by her parents. When auditions for jazz band are announced, Nira realizes it's now or never to convince her parents that she deserves a chance to pursue her passion. As if fighting with her parents weren't bad enough, Nira finds herself navigating a new friendship dynamic when her crush, Noah, and notorious mean-girl, McKenzie "Mac," take a sudden interest in her and Emily, inserting themselves into the fold. So, too, does Nira's much cooler (and very competitive) cousin Farah. Is she trying to wiggle her way into the new group to get closer to Noah? Is McKenzie trying to steal Emily's attention away from her? As Farah and Noah grow closer and Emily begins to pull away, Nira's trusted trumpet "George" remains her constant, offering her an escape from family and school drama. But it isn't until Nira takes a step back that she realizes she's not the only one struggling to find her place in the world. As painful truths about her family are revealed, Nira learns to accept people for who they are and to open herself in ways she never thought possible.’

Very capably combining a strong coming of age story with a valued exploration of conflicts in immigrant households, cultural idiosyncrasies, and a following a dream philosophy that crowns this novel, Natasha Deen has become a standard bearer for the art of meaningful (and entertaining) novels. Very highly recommended for abroad audience.

~Grady Harp