Full of diversity and complex issues, Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story is a must read for anyone who wants to read about two complex and incredibly endearing main characters. Their struggle for love, acceptance, and safety, is one that is, at times, difficult to read, but entirely necessary, because of the weight of the topics it discusses.
Jaya has had it all: servants, wealth, two parents. But there have always been cracks beneath the surface. Rasa has had nothing: an absent mother, three siblings counting on her, and poverty that leaves her sacrificing meals. Neither knows what it is like to find love that is warm, accepting, and loving. Miraculously they find each other, against all odds. But can their love survive the world they live in? A world in which Jaya’s transgender identity causes depression and hate at school, where Rasa is under the thumb of a violent abusive pimp. Can they hold onto the pure love within their hearts, or will they succumb?
As you might be able to tell, the plot is incredibly intense. TW: homophobia, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts/attempted suicide, drugs, prostitution, and abuse. It can feel heavy and even tragic at times, but what pulls you through are the main characters of Jaya and Rasa. They are resilient, endearing, compassionate, and tender. Their vulnerability, fragility, and love makes you root for them and want to read onwards – to find out if their love is strong enough to triumph over the external forces. We grow up with them, not only by seeing each of their different perspectives, through alternating point of views, but also as they grow up from nine to seventeen.
Even though the book is undeniably complex, I found the issues it deals with to be one of the strongest points of the book. Patel does not shy away from difficult topics such as immigration, identity, and parents. In this discomfort, this unsettling sadness, there is opportunity for knowledge and growth. There is a nuance and strength in the way Patel describes and talks about these issues. (I have neither suffered from any of the aforementioned TWs, nor am part of the cultures that Jaya and Rasa belong to, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of Patel’s descriptions. Patel’s website makes it seem like they grew up in Hawaii, in a Gujarati family).
Patel doesn’t offer us answers, doesn’t even suggest that love is the way to solve these problems. Instead Patel merely shows us the cracks within these families. One of the largest themes I found in the book, is that those who we count on for love, acceptance, and help, are often the ones who take advantage of Jaya and Rasa. This would be demoralizing to the bone, but still our main characters are able to recognize that there is still goodness and love within – especially from those who have no ‘duty’ or ties to us.
Jaya and Rasa
While there may be heavy hitting issues, there were undeniable moments of light. I loved the cover and even more so after reading the book. Jaya’s trans-journey was fantastic to read, especially as we witness the progress as he grows up. Rasa’s spiral into prostitution was nuanced, tinged with need and expectation. In addition, there are light hearted moments throughout the book – even those tinged with loss. Jaya and Rasa’s love of Nirvanna was precious (and brought me back to some of my favorites). Their feelings of attraction and love were brilliant rays of sunshine. Additionally, the side characters of Rasa’s siblings and Jaya’s friends were amazing. There was support, love, and so much more. (I did miss some of the sibling interaction in the latter half of the book).
This book is just fabulous because of its depth, its characters, and its ability to transition between the bubbling feelings of new love and the sadness of situations beyond our capability or control. Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ detract from the other, instead showing the interaction they have within our lives. Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story is exactly that, a love story, but full of so much more and left with an ending that hands the reins over to us, the reader. It is a compelling read and one that I am still thinking about days later. That’s the type of book this is – one that will get under your skin.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
What is your favorite book that is both sad and uplifting?
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