The Beauty of the Moment
The Beauty of the Moment
Here’s the thing about bad grades: You can run from them, but you can’t hide them from your parents. Or at least not if your parents are like mine.
The next afternoon, I find Amma and Appa sitting on the couch. Together, I note, for the first time since their talk about separating. They are also glaring at me, which, in my experience, foreshadows an ambush.
“What is it?” I ask. “What did I do?”
“What didn’t you do is what I’d like to know,” Amma begins, and then clamps her mouth shut when Appa places a hand on her shoulder.
He’s touching her. And she’s letting him. This must be serious.
“Susan, your mother found a recent physics lab of yours,” he tells me in the Doctor Voice. “The one in which you—”
“You know about the C-plus.” I should have ripped the paper to shreds instead of stuffing it in my bedroom drawer.
My father frowns. “Don’t act flippant with me, young lady. Your mother was so shocked that she called the school and asked to speak to your teacher, Mr. Franklin. He said you had a good sense of the theory and the problem sets, but your lab work is weak—has been weak since the beginning of the semester. Why didn’t you tell us you were having problems?”
Because I’m not supposed to have problems with academics. Because I thought I could figure things out without involving either one of you. Because I was afraid of seeing these exact expressions on your faces.
I don’t put my jumbled thoughts into words. I’m not a smooth talker on my best of days, and today my insides feel like a giant knotted mess.
“At this rate, you’ll probably only qualify for advanced admission into general science at university.” Appa’s tone makes the BSc program sound mediocre. “Medicine or engineering are out of the question.”
“Now that would put your plans in a fix, wouldn’t it?” The words spill from my mouth, taste like coffee grounds.
“All your plans—your grand plans”—I sprinkle imaginary stardust in the air—“to make me a doctor or engineer or everything I don’t and never have wanted to be, are going down the toilet, right, Amma, Appa? Just like your marriage.”
“How dare you—” Amma begins.
“How dare I what—exist? Isn’t that what you told Ammachi in your letter, Amma? The one where you said you didn’t want to get pregnant in the first place?”
My mother’s mouth falls open. For the first time, nothing emerges from it.
“And you.” I turn to my father who looks like he has never seen me before. “You never wanted us either, did you? We interfered with your plans to get with your nurse, so you sent us both away.”
“Suzy, it wasn’t like that. Please listen—”
But I don’t want to listen to my parents anymore. I leave them both making excuses to the air and lock myself in my bedroom.
Susan Thomas has recently immigrated to Toronto from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She is the new girl in school, academically inclined and driven. Her parents have instilled in her the belief that her studies should always come first, before friends and hobbies. Susan’s parents want her to be a doctor or engineer; however, her true passion is drawing. If she weren’t so afraid of her parents’ disapproval, she would prefer to follow her dreams of being an artist. Her parents never fail to remind her of all that they have sacrificed for her to live and go to school in Canada.
Malcolm has a bit of a reputation. His mom died of cancer when he was 15, and he has been known for causing trouble since then. His home life is messy—he lives with his younger sister, his abusive and distant father, and his stepmother, for whom there is no love lost.
Like the old adage states, opposites attract right from the moment they lay eyes on each other. Despite their differences, the pair seems to bring the best out in each other and encourage each other’s growth in different ways. Their relationship does not follow a straight path though—from parental disapproval to the pressures of school to interference from peers, Susan and Malcolm’s connection is tested multiple times. Told in alternating chapters, The Beauty of the Moment follows each teen as they face their own unique issues in their home and school lives, pulling them apart and bringing them back together, as their relationship ebbs and flows.
The Beauty of the Moment is author Tanaz Bhathena’s latest offering for Penguin Teen Canada. Bhathena’s debut novel, A Girl Like That, was released to much critical acclaim, including current nominations for the 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Award and the 2019 OLA White Pine Award, and has been named one of the 100 Best Books of 2018 by The Globe and Mail. Like her character in this novel, Susan, Bhathena was born in India and grew up in Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Bhathena has done a masterful job in her development of the characters in this novel. From the two protagonists to the secondary characters, all are realistically flawed and multidimensional. In the author’s portrayal of Susan, The Beauty of the Moment paints an accurate picture, not only of what it is like to be the new girl in school, but also of the feelings and experiences of a newcomer to Canada. Malcolm’s own struggles with his grief over his mother’s death, his father’s treatment of him and his sister, and the way he copes with these challenges through his own partying and rebellious behaviours are well-detailed through the narration and dialogue. Each protagonist’s relationships and interactions with secondary characters, including parents and friends, aid in developing their character, their feelings, and experiences for the reader. Readers are likely to connect with the characters, through either being a window to the experience of others, or a mirror into their own experience, or perhaps both.
Upon first glance, one may consider the main theme of this novel to be that of teen relationships, a subject that appears frequently in young adult literature. However, once one digs deeper into the story, it is clear that this book takes on a unique perspective that is not yet widely found in young adult literature. Bhathena weaves in multicultural perspectives through both Susan and Malcolm’s stories. One can imagine that Bhathena’s own experiences may have contributed to the creation of Susan’s well-developed and realistic story. The narration and dialogue allow readers to gain a perspective on what it may be like to not only be the new girl at school, but also to be new to the country, as they read about Susan’s balancing act of trying to meet her parents’ wishes and follow her heart at the same time. The Beauty of the Moment also explores themes of identity, following one’s dreams, culture, and family. That no one theme dominates the others makes for a realistic and well-rounded novel and allows readers to connect with and take from the book what they wish.
The Beauty of the Moment is a superbly crafted work of young adult fiction, one filled with authentic and multifaceted characters and multicultural perspectives. This book which explores diverse themes and issues that are likely to be of great relevance to readers in the target audience would be a valuable addition to any classroom, school, or home library.
Chasity Findlay is a graduate of the Master of Education program in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba and an avid reader of young adult fiction.