Asian Review of Books reviews Manan

(from the website)

7 October 2014 — Mohit Parikh’s debut young adult novel, Manan, is full of introspection and awakenings of both a physical and psychological nature. Protagonist Manan, fourteen years old, is at the top of his class but remains one of the smallest students among his male peers. But at the beginning of the book, Manan has just made a thrilling discovery:

…today, oblivious to everyone, there is a hair standing tall inside his shorts: a single hair, long, black and shiny. Sprouting out of nowhere, it stands rebelliously erect on his tiny barren orb, not thwarted by the force of the cloth of his underwear, announcing its eventual arrival with √©lan.

Manan’s first pubic hair prompts him to speculate on human nature, and in particular, the adult preoccupation with sex. Coinciding with these thoughts is the advent of regular Internet use—it’s 1998—and Manan’s introduction to the world of online porn. Struggling to suppress his urge to explore seemingly endless realms of cyber-eroticism, Manan finds himself embroiled in burgeoning adulthood, along with a host of new doubts and fears.

Manan is hardly a typical bildungsroman. Parikh’s stream-of-consciousness prose style departs from the fast-paced, action-packed voices found in many contemporary YA titles. A truly pensive soul, Manan constantly analyzes, reevaluates, and fixates—almost obsessively—on every detail. He may not be as angst-ridden as other teenage protagonists, but he is absorbed with the quandaries of everyday life, and his scrutiny often yields an unexpected level of profundity. Once privy to the shortcomings of adults and their inane priorities, Manan comes to a harsh realization:

Among the many things that are happening inside him, one that he identifies lucidly is a loss of respect for all elders. They will never again be venerable. Not even his teachers. They are liars, wrongdoers, and they don’t deserve to be looked up to.

Readers unused to such constant philosophical reckonings may find Manan plodding and lacking plot, and its title character exasperating in his endless quest to hypothesize, probe, and assess. Fortunately, the playfulness written into Manan’s mental exertions—punctuated by Urmila Shastry’s charming illustrations, as well as a number of handy charts—keeps the novel’s tone light yet relevant. Ultimately, Manan is a charming rendezvous through the mindscape of a boy who never stops thinking—and might trigger you to think a little deeper as well.

Mia Warren currently produces radio for KRTS 93.5 FM in Marfa, Texas. From 2013-14, she was a Fulbright Fellow researching the Japanese Peruvian population.

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