My first reaction a few chapters into Uma Krishnaswami‘s latest middle-grade romp of a novel was, ‘Take me, take me! I wanna move to Swapnagiri, too!’ Dini and her family’s South Indian adventures hadn’t even started yet, and I was ready to pack my bags … all sorts of wondrous memories of wandering through Keralan tea plantations (chasing fresh elephant tracks at sunrise!) made me announce to the hubby I’m heading for the hills! At least in my reading world … oh, if only!
Eleven-year-old Dini has a rather sparkly happy life, living in Takoma Park (a Maryland suburb just outside Washington, DC) with two doting parents. Turn the pages, and you’ll see how illustrator Abigail Halpin perfectly infuses her with mischievous charm (just look at that beckoning cover for proof!).
Dini undoubtedly has the perfect best friend, Maddie, who shares her love of all things Bollywood, especially the magic of filmi megastar Dolly Singh. The girls are shocked, then devastated when Dini’s doctor-mother announces she finally got the grant she’s always wanted – her tenacious sixth time applying! – to work in a medical clinic for women and children in tiny Swapnagiri (which means “Dream Mountain”) on the other side of the world …!
Forget Bollywood dance camp for the BFFs … Dini and her family are off in two weeks, for two whole years. Everything happens quick-quick and Dini finds herself installed at Sunny Villa, adjusting to a brand new life filled with fun-loving monkeys, curry puffs (with chocolate), and quirky new neighbors and possible friends. Best surprise of all: Dolly Singh is hiding out somewhere in Swapnagiri and Dini and Maddie (thanks to the magical connection of the internet) are going to figure out how to find her.
Krishnaswami’s extensive cast includes dedicated mail-people (going postal here has a tenaciously helpful new meaning!), a grumpy young girl who sounds more like a bird (any number of birds!), a talented pastry chef eyeing a Guinness World Record, a filmi studio executive missing his precious star, a broken-hearted would-be lover, and a rattling electric car that mysteriously plays Bollywood tunes which even the most talented mechanic can’t seem to control. Thanks to Dini’s excellent direction, Krishnaswami’s newest production is most definitely a well-scripted, energetic, serendipitous delight.
Readers: Middle Grade