Over the last decade or so, urban India has developed a wide readership for books specifically written for teenagers. A large percent of these books were written by American or European writers such as Meg Cabot, Stephanie Meyer etc. who have gained huge profits due to the massive popularity of the genre. The scene in India only came alive later with writers such as Anuja Chauhan or Paro Anand writing stories about and for young adults; which left their mark on readers mostly in the cosmopolitan parts of India. What I find problematic about the way that this writing is perceived, is that most people essentialise this entire genre as chick lit. And doing that wouldn’t be a negative thing if only people didn’t consider that to be synonymous with stories written only for women, which are almost always supposed to be romantic and melodramatic tales of unrealistic people.
There are two things that must be kept in mind; one, that a lot of the work produced within this genre is nuanced and more than just a variation of a boy-meets-girl story written by a female author and two, that even if the above were true, that doesn’t make it exclusively for women. So it is refreshing to pick up something written for young readers which doesn’t conform to such notions and shatters several such stereotypes.‘Split’ by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is a book written about the life of a teenager who is witnessing and dealing with the process of her parents’ divorce.
Set in Delhi, the sixteen year old Noor is a so called typical young girl who leads a privileged and happy life with her parents. Until they break the news of their divorce to her and completely change her life. She also belongs to a big gang of the most popular and elite girls in school and can’t bear for any of them to know about her domestic situation. Forced by her parents, she goes to an after school support group meant for children who have experienced divorce. There she meets Ishaan, a boy who is described as ‘funny’ and ‘nerdy’ but hardly fits the role of the kind of boy she’s allowed to consider romantically by the rest of her group. All of this combined with the fact that her estrange paternal grandmother takes it upon herself to look after Noor during the aftermath of the divorce, only spell havoc for Noor and her life.
‘Split’ being my first book by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is an offbeat read in several ways. Although the book is written in a way that may seem childish or stereotypical, it does in fact try to capture the world that a sixteen year old girl inhabits. The way in which the author talks about the protagonist and the pressures of being a teenager in today’s time, is the closest I’ve seen to a realistic portrayal of the insanity that is school life. One must not forget that although hundreds of books and films about adolescents have been made, most of them portray a caricature of young adults and trivialise their lives and issues. They are usually written about as superficial beings and popular culture treats them as mere sources of entertainment. Keeping that in mind, a book like ‘Split’ distinguishes itself by being more honest and unafraid when it comes to talking about the darker and deeper parts of a young adult’s world.
Somewhere between the extremes of showing them as nimble and innocent babies and sexed up rebellious substance abusers, the voice of an adolescent has been silenced and censored in several ways. This book talks about Noor as a real human being who has difficult choices to make and doesn’t shy away from the fact that both she and all the people around her are messed up in many ways. The enormous pressure of being in a clique with girls who aren’t always the nicest to you but have called themselves your best friend for years is very relatable. Even the fact that she can’t tell her so called best friends about her parent’s divorce or that boy she likes, shows how so many of us at that age have to force ourselves to endure certain people for fear of committing social suicide. What I also like about this book is that it normalises things like drinking or going out late at night without making demons of the people who do it; they aren’t portrayed as promiscuous or troubled because for once, a book doesn’t shy away from talking about things the way they ACTUALLY are.
Another thing that is unique about this book is the dialogue around divorce. A subject that is so sensitive, especially in a country like India, is dealt with a great deal of maturity and dignity. When Noor talks about the slow and painful disintegration of her parents’ marriage or her anger towards her paternal grandmother who disowned them because of her mother’s religion, the words are riddled with suffering and a strange kind of truth. We live in a world where the glorified institution of family is probably the most dysfunctional space; and when someone calls out the ugly and depressing parts for what they are, it makes for very realistic reading.
You may feel like rolling your eyes at times at the juvenile behaviour of Noor’s immediate friends and maybe even at Noor herself but there are several touching moments where she evokes a certain kind of sympathy (and empathy) in the reader. You can’t help but wish for things to get better for her. Along with this, the book has a very mature and appropriate take on a young girl exploring her sexual side while trying to break free from the trappings of unwanted popularity and high expectations. The idea of an after school group made for children who are dealing with divorced parents is a novel and foreign concept but adds interest and dimension to the nove;. It gives the reader insight into the minds of kids, young and old, who have to deal with the absence of a stable background, something that most of us take for granted.
So overall, what makes ‘Split’ worth a read is that it takes a step towards removing stigma from the subject of divorce and explores the lives and battles of young adults with acute sensitivity. It’s not as if the book is above flaws; sometimes the characters are too hackneyed and the situations contrived, but all in all the book is refreshing, especially for those who are young adults themselves. The book is an interesting commentary on the madness and chaos inherently present in society in current times. The ending of the novel isn’t a rushed tying up of loose ends because the book leaves several things unresolved and unanswered. That perhaps is what lends the book more power because much like real life, it simply goes on. All in all, watching the bildungsroman protagonist slowly come into her own makes ‘Split’ an engaging experience.