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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes and Stolen Toilets. Written by Mahtab Narsimhan. Scholastic, 2016. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"In under a minute he named them all. We grabbed a plate each and piled them high. I had yet to meet a sweet or snack in India that wasn't scrumptious. Indians believed in coloring their world vividly, even when it came to food. Everything on the table had a vibrant hue and oozed flavor and fragrance. I added dollops of green and red chutneys ..."

If you like adventure mixed in with a visit to India in the books you read, you are sure to enjoy this story of two friends who make a summer trip to Mumbai. Rohit and the Lal family are there to attend a family wedding. Rohit's friend Dylan is offered the chance to go and jumps at the opportunity: to hone his photography skills and to get away from his parents who seem unable to say a civil word to each other.

Dylan's dad sees no value in his son's interest in photography and Dylan wants to prove that he is good at what he does by taking photos in this brand new environment and entering one of those photos in a contest that will win him a coveted award. Rohit is unhappy that he has been dragged back to India at the insistence of his parents. His mood is a constant source of conflict and irritation to all who are with him, particularly to Dylan who works hard to help him.

His rude demeanor angers his aunty, his father's sister, and she threatens to keep him in India where he will learn to be civil and obedient once again. Since she has provided funds for the family to move to America, she feels that she has the right to do so. Rohit will not be intimidated. Dylan tries to get him to change his attitude to appease his aunty. The two are at constant loggerheads. While they are both honest with themselves and know their own minds, they cannot seem to understand what the other is feeling. It is a strain every day, and threatens to ruin their holiday.

Mumbai is as much a character as the boys are. The smells, the sounds, the people, the tastes are described in such detail that I felt that I was sharing the cultural adventures that the two boys shared. There is humor and angst, love of family and friendship - each plays an important role in the enjoyment that readers will feel when sharing this story. Dylan's lack of cultural knowledge often leads to the Lal family rescuing him from unpleasant and embarrassing situations. The bonds of friendship are definitely strained in this new reality. In the end, friendship and family win out and readers are left feeling satisfied by this adventurous romp.

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