Title: Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story
Author: Sonia Patel
Expected Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Rating: ★★★★/ 4 Stars
Genre: Contemporary YA
Seventeen-year-old Jaya Mehta detests wealth, secrets, and privilege, though he has them all. His family is Indian, originally from Gujarat. Rasa Santos, like many in Hawaii, is of mixed ethnicity. All she has are siblings, three of them, plus a mother who controls men like a black widow spider and leaves her children whenever she wants to. Neither Jaya nor Rasa have ever known real love or close family―not until their chance meeting one sunny day on a mountain in Hau’ula.
The unlikely love that blooms between them must survive the stranglehold their respective pasts have on them. Each of their present identities has been shaped by years of extreme family struggles. By the time they cross paths, Jaya is a transgender outsider with depressive tendencies and the stunningly beautiful Rasa thinks sex is her only power until a violent pimp takes over her life. Will their love transcend and pull them forward, or will they remain stuck and separate in the chaos of their pasts?
I received a free eARC of this book in exchange of an honest review from Edielweiss.
Trigger Warning: Binging and purging, Jaya is deadnamed and misgendered often, Rasa ends up being manipulated into turning tricks for a pimp, and there is an allusion to a rape scene in which Rasa is 12, and there is a lot of underaged sex, which makes it statutory rape.
It’s difficult for me to write this review because I honestly did not see any of what happened coming. Instead of it being a good surprise, it kind of messed me up. I really had to be in the right mental head space to read this book. Despite the fluffiness and the colorful cover, Jaya and Rasa comes with very harsh topics.
I have not done any research beyond that the author shares Jaya’s ethnicity and lives in Hawaii. I am not sure if it’s ownvoices for the transboy representation.
There are great things in the book.
The culture in J&R is so vivid you could probably see it with your own eyes if you try even the slightest at imagining it. Patel is gifted when it comes to describing exactly how the ocean or even the smallest bit of sand would feel. What really appealed to me is how honest the culture of Hawaii felt in the book, not romanticized at all but displayed as it is: a country ravaged by greedy businessmen who stole so much land and left native Hawaiians with scraps.
Jaya and Rasa both were very aware of problematic aspects in their lives. Jaya knew his father’s money hungry attitude was basically stealing from the natives of Hawaii especially the bit where his father bribed some city officials to build over a sacred burial. In my culture, that kind of thing is very much a big no-no and the sentiment is reflected in Hawaiian culture, I presume, by the intense shame Jaya feels because of his father’s actions. Rasa on the other hand was aware of how her mother Kalindi, a woman of not Indian ethnicity, appropriated the culture by giving her children and even herself Sanskrit names. This action was a way of Kalindi sexualized aspects of Indian culture and further turned them into exotic lifestyle when they are very meaningful to Indian people like Jaya.
Jaya did not transition by using hormones or a surgery because his parents did not even know he was transgender. This point hit to heart because I personally can never take medical measures to be more comfortable in the body I am in because of this issue of not being out.
Jaya also had the support of three people in his life: his friend Alika, Nohea and Rasa. Alike is a school friend who is gay, Nohea is genderfluid who is explicitly mentioned to “slide along the gender line according to how she felt at any given time, though she gave special tie to her feminine side.” These two’s influence on Jaya is very positive and I liked that. He had a tiny support system, who knew of his identity and respected it. I’m glad Jaya had those kind of friends since he faced transphobia all around him as he was constantly misgendered by his classmates and parents. In the case of his parents, Jaya is harassed about his short hair, and is called a “lesbian” multiple times both by his parents and classmates.
Rasa’s quick understanding of Jaya’s transgender identity made me smile. She thought of Jaya using feminine pronouns, and when she thought that she had feelings for Jaya, she didn’t doubt them. Jaya coming out to Rasa did not change a thing for her, Rasa immediately changed into the proper he/him pronouns for Jaya and didn’t doubt her attraction to him. I enjoyed that bit so much. It felt like their connection was on a deep level of mutual suffering.
However, one thing I really wish was done a bit differently is Rasa’s own personal ending. Rasa’s arc really broke my heart, and while I appreciate the rawness of her unfortunate life, I wish she’d gotten a happier outcome. She’s this incredibly selfless girl who would not even eat the leftovers of her sister’s dinner, who basically raised her three siblings since she was younger than 12. It is poverty and negligence both on her other’s end and the government that Rasa ended up selling her body to feed her siblings and keep them clothed. Yet, the end kind of broke her for me. She had been living in this muddled illusion that she is a black widow like her mother, controlling men and using them when in reality, she’s just a kid who has been thrown to the wolves when she was barely a teen. I realize the end of the book was meant to be a hopeful end but it kind of came a bit too late for me. I felt tortured throughout the book because she simply could not catch a break. I wish she’d have gotten some help early on so it’d be an even more inspirational ending for girls who might find themselves in situation like Rasa’s. I realize it’s very idealistic of me to wish such a thing.
Overall, I think the book should come with trigger warnings. A lot of people could get hurt from such a blatant description of sexual assault, which Rasa goes through without her own awareness since she blanks out through her encounters.
Again, this book is very meaningful and the fact that it has two brown people on the cover makes me super happy, I enjoyed the writing so much, it was poetic and heartbreaking all at once but there were aspects that made me very uncomfortable and affected my enjoyment of the book.
I would recommend getting this book, supporting ownvoice authors who write diversely is important, but do heed the warnings.