A new book explores similar themes to Twilight
Original article by Ruth Lukabyo, Evangelism & Church History Lecturer, Youthworks College.
When I came to read Monsoon Summer I wanted to find out whether there were good Christian novels that that would interest my tween daughter. The last teen novel I read was Twilight (which I was not keen to let my 11 year old read) and I found myself comparing the two books.
The issue of identity is key in both books. The main female character sees herself as an outsider, not part of the beautiful/popular set. In Twilight, Bella’s search for identity takes her away from her family as she begins to define herself in relation to Edward, the vampire she falls in love with. In Monsoon Summer, Jazz is very much on a quest of identity that involves her whole family. Her Mother is an Indian orphan raised by white Americans and the story is of the family’s summer holiday to India, to the orphanage where she had been left as a baby. The whole family is stretched in new ways, especially in how to serve and love others around them. Jazz’s self-discovery takes place in the midst of a warm, loving family that has shaped her, rather than seeking an independent identity.
Jazz also struggles with accepting her body and seeing herself as beautiful. She is not petite like her mother, but tall and curvaceous. She is described as “big, stong and beautiful” and has to come to the point where she can accept and even enjoy this description. In India, her body-type and light skin is seen as beautiful, and she begins to feel more at ease with her body and stops trying to cover her curves all the time. This is an important issue to engage with in teen literature and very helpful to be reminded that our understanding of beauty has been artificially constructed by popular culture, magazines and TV.
Both the stories are also about the blossoming of teenage love, and here is where there is a real difference between them. In Twilight I found the obsession of the romantic love chilling and destructive. The love between Bella and Edward is a hunger for possession. Bella is willing to give up her family and even her mortal life to be with Edward. In Monsoon Summer, the teen love seems healthier. Jazz goes away with her family even though it will separate her from Steve. She loves him but continues to be in warm relationships with her family. She makes friends, embarks on projects, her whole life does not consist of her love for Steve.
Finally, the two books present alternative visions of the good life. In Twilight, romantic love gives meaning to life: to love and be loved by one person. In Monsoon Summer, Jazz is a good businesswoman but believes she is a failure when she tries to reach out and help others. The novel is Jazz’s journey in using her gifts to help an orphan to set up a small business of her own. Jazz’s heart must become big, strong and beautiful like her body. This vision of a good life is shaped by Christian values of service and love, though there is little mention of Jesus or themes of forgiveness, grace or redemption. The danger for the book is that it can be seen as merely a moralistic tale. It will not be a classic, but it is a book full of wisdom, warmth and love and I am sure many Christian teens will identify with Jazz and her struggles.