The Plot: Meet Jasbir “Jazz” Dhatt, high school junior. She’s book smart, part of the Future Stars and Leaders Program at her high school. She has two best friends, Cindy Reda-Rodriguez and Jeevan “Jeeves” Sahota.Then there’s Tyler R., the cute new boy at school. A pretty good life.
Except for that little arranged marriage thing. No, seriously. Jazz’s parents have decided that the way to ensure Jazz’s future happiness is to arrange a marriage.
All Jazz has to do is figure out how to be true to herself (which means hanging out with her friends and flirting with Tyler R.) while being the good daughter at home who plays along with her parents’ arranged marriage plans.
The Good: Jazz to her friends, Jassy to her parents, Jazz tries to balance both worlds, both sets of expectations, and her own desires. The desire is not just her crush on Tyler R., but also her desire to wear make up and cut her hair and date.
I love how Jazz’s background is specific. Not just “Indian,” but Punjabi. I’m reminded of my own family (Irish) and how the second question asked of Irish and Irish Americans is what county their people are from. It matters, whether Limerick or Mayo or Sligo. So it matters that Jazz and her family is Punjabi, so certain terms (Babaloo) may be “a very special term of endearment among us Punjabis.” The Dhatts are Sikh, and this matters not just in who Jazz is but also in one of my favorite plot points. It’s against her religion to cut her hair. Her best friend’s family owns a beauty salon, so don’t understand. “Not even a trim,” Jazz explains. Her friend’s sister responds, “funny how your dad is immune to the strict religious doctrine.” Yes, her father has cut his hair: “My dad had a beard and turban in some of the old pictures my parents had from India, but ever since they’d been in the U.S., the pictures were of a clean-shaven, short-haired Dad.” With a few simple sentences, Meminger reveals the complexity of religious observance, how personal it is, with shades of gray. A lesser book would have turned this into a didactic message on how a properly raised person who is Sikh wouldn’t even question this and would never, ever cut their hair.
Speaking of questioning, on to the arranged marriage! Both Hush by Eishes Chayil and the film Arranged include arranged marriages. Jazz in Love is a different take. First, Jazz is younger than the characters in Hush and Arranged. Second, Jazz’s parents truly believe that by helping her find a husband now, it will avoid the chance of her making a mistake. They think she is close to making such a mistake because they saw her hugging a boy. Her mother has files for different boys whose families likewise want to find just the right girl for their son. As her mother explains, “You’ll meet the boy, spend some time together, and Daddy and I will be right by your side the whole time, accha?” Her parents think they are being “modern” by not rushing Jazz into marriage and allowing Jazz to go through the files and pick those she is interested in. “You have no idea how lucky you are to have modern parents, Jassy. We are letting you pick. Completely your choice.”
Jazz’s parents are happy in their marriage, but Meminger offers a balanced view of arranged marriages with the inclusion of Auntie Kinder, a close family friend. Kinder’s marriage was arranged and it did not end well. She, along with her young daughter, fled her abusive husband. When Jazz points this out to her mother, her mother responds that “your father and I would never allow that. We would interview the boy and the family very carefully, and you would spend as much time as you like getting to know him before anyone made any commitments. Remember, you won’t have to get married right away. Kinder’s parents rushed her marriage….”
Enough of arranged marriages! Jazz in Love is about other things. It is also about falling for a boy, that delicious period of time when the boy you like just saying your name can make your heart stop. “My heart was pounding so hard, it was going to rip out of my shirt and flop around on the ground like a fish. . . . [His kiss] turned everything liquid inside me. It made me feel beautiful and special and important and . . . wanted. I didn’t know how else to explain it. When Tyler kissed me, it was almost like I got to see a part of myself reflected under different light. I got to see a part of me I hadn’t ever seen before. It was addictive.” It’s all encompassing.
Finally, it is about Jazz: falling in love with Tyler, but also in love with her family and friends. That love can lead to some missteps along the way, such as her grand plans to help her Auntie Kinder by finding Kinder’s old boyfriend. It can also backfire when — but no. Enough. I’ll leave some surprises for the reader to discover.