Vanished by Sheela R Chari is a wonderful debut novel aimed at tweens. It's part mystery and part coming of age tale. Eleven year old Neela is learning to play the veena — a four foot tall stringed instrument from India. When her instrument goes missing she is determined to get it back, even if it means going head-to-head against a curse!
Neela's missing instrument is her grandmother's, a veena decorated with the carved head of a wyvern. After its disappearance, she finds herself surrounded by reminders of the missing veena. What Neela must do is decide if these reminders are clues or just further evidence of the curse.
Vanished is set in Boston. Neela and her family are a believable blend of American and Indian cultures. As the focus is on the stolen veena, the novel doesn't fall into the usual trap of creating tension through Neela's westernization and her family's traditional ways. Instead, she is part of a vibrant, believable family that is finding the balance between old and new traditions.
For a tween mystery, Vanished is delightfully complex. The clues are all there for attentive readers. I have to admit I was to taken in with the curse angle to pay attention, so as things unfolded, I was surprised.
While knowledge and appreciation for Indian culture (especially music) certainly enhances the reading experience, it's not necessary. The author does an excellent job of weaving descriptions of key details into the novel.
Finally, there is the lovely cover art designed by Jon Klassen, of I Want My Hat Back. By itself, the cover is inviting. It covers the basics of the plot in a quick glance — a girl and her veena. But as readers reach the end, they will discover the true significance of the cover art. It gets to the heart and soul of the piece.
Comment #1: Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 22:50:38
Sounds like a magical story. I love stories with influences of other cultures too so I think this would be an ideal read for me.
Comment #2: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 17:53:25
I hope you give it a read. It was really good from start to finish.