Sensitive, unsettling, bold, powerful and moving.
I finished reading ‘The Other’ by Paro Anand. Once I picked it up could not stop reading though I wanted to at certain points. It is a set of short stories centered around teenagers. Realistic fiction. Heavy, unsettling topics put forth in a simple, bold and touching manner. Each story delves into a difference, otherness with focus on themes of gender identity, bullying, grief, dealing with trauma, animal rescue, physical disability, sexual assault, body image and drug addiction.
This is a book that compels you to reflect after catching your breath, at the end of each story.
The stories unfold with deceptively light-hearted simplicity which endears you to the realistic teenage characters brimming with vulnerability and individuality. Carefully crafted with great sensitivity, the narrative is stark yet searing as it conveys the myriad of differences and underlying emotions. Nine stories in all that cover a wide spectrum of differences…the otherness that exists, how it is manifested and the emotional upheavals and the courage it takes to overcome and emerge stronger.
If you are looking for more details potentially verging on spoilers, continue reading beyond this point.
The author boldly and unflinchingly lifts the social veil to lay bare each of these in first person narratives.
– A boy with physical disability experiences kindness, acceptance, affection from a friend, longs for it to be love, nurses the heartache when it is not and moves forward with uplifting self-acceptance and hope of even potentially experiencing love that may be reciprocated, in the future.
– A girl with set notions about her mother’s and father’s roles in the society, and about transgenders, comes to terms with and becomes supportive of her best friend when he reveals the truth about and embraces his gender identity.
– A girl who mutely witnesses a brutal and fatal assault, the trauma, despair, haunting regret that makes her constantly replay the incident in her mind differently everytime, deep sense of guilt and soul searching that follows and finding redemption in her parents’ words to move forward.
– A girl who does not fit into the society’s conventional expectation of beauty, reflects with fierce angst the unfairness of it all and the perceptions around how being beautiful is associated with goodness, while the opposite is associated with negative character traits, and how it defines the state of mind before sharing her thoughts with her perfect sister and resetting her mind towards acceptance, courage, freeing it from shackles of social conditioning. Narrated like Cinderella’s retelling but from one of the ugly sister’s perspective.
– The deep, depressing grief of dealing with the death of a parent and the emotional disconnect before finally attempting to reach out and reconnect with the other parent.
– The downward spiral of drug addiction in the backdrop of a dysfunctional family that has grown apart, followed by hope.
– A horrendous incestuous rape of a school child that emotionally tears apart a family and how the child, each member of her family (other than the rapist), and others very close to her cope, question and try to move forward.
– A middle-grader relying on her make-believe superhero friend to counter the bullying due to caste and economic divide, before finally standing up for herself.
– Human cruelty towards street animals contrasted against humans who decide to rescue and care for another street pup despite having a full house.
Though dark, disturbing, intense and deeply moving…enough to leave a large burning lump in your throat, all the stories end on positive and uplifting notes.