Review: Pashmina

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Genres: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions–the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

I love everything about this book. I love the art style, I love the magical realism, I love the coming of age story, I loved the nuances of cultural identity, and I loved the mother-daughter relationship. Everything about this book was just so brilliant!

Chanani managed to write a story filled with normal, everyday sadness, yet was somehow a feel-good, hopeful story. Main character Priyanka is dealing with normal teen drama (annoyed with mom, low self-esteem, teased at school), but also a sense of cultural disconnect. Her mom is Indian, but she refuses to talk about her home, her family, or her past. She has this odd heritage where parts of India (the food, the Bollywood) are part of every day life, and she gets teased for it. At the same time, she is profoundly aware that she is not Indian, she is American. She wonders if maybe it would have been better if her mom had just stayed in India.

Which, I get it, all of that sounds heavy and difficult. But it wasn’t. Everything was so whimsical, so enchanting. So hopeful. The magical realism really helped with this tone.

And the use of color. WOW! Most of the book is in gray-scale, but when the magic comes out, WHAM. Full color illustrations! It really made Pri’s experience of the magic as being better than real life, as well as her longing for India (idealized though it might be) feel more vivid and real.

I also really appreciated reading a book where nothing truly terrible happens. Yeah, some things in both the present and past are rather sad, but nobody dies or gets sexually assaulted or in a gun fight or any of the other really heavy themes that are so pervasive in most contemporary fiction. It made this sweet little graphic novel a breath of fresh air.

I loved this book. Highly recommend to fans of Pumpkinhead. If you love contemporary Young Adult, I strongly suggest you give this book a try, even if you’ve never read a graphic novel before. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

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