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<< Back to Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story

Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story

Building Diverse Bookshelves
Sonia Patel does not hold back from confronting the dirt and scars defining so many young people’s lives today. Her years of experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist shine through the pages of this book as she deftly handles themes of isolation, desperation, and redemption.
Sonia Patel, author of last year’s smash debut Rani Patel in Full Effect, does not disappoint in her second novel, Jaya and Rasa, A Love Story, which chronicles the very different lives of two young people living with dangerous secrets on modern-day O’ahu whose chance meeting catalyzes events far beyond their control.

The story begins with Rasa Santos at seven years old, spying on her mother Kalindi through an open window. Kalindi’s trade is prostitution, and as Rasa begins growing older, she begins to think of Kalindi as a black widow spider, seducing men with her beauty and magnetism before trapping them in her erotic web. Rasa is the oldest child, and feels personally responsible for her younger siblings’ welfare, so when Kalindi begins spending more time away from home and the children are on the verge of starving, Rasa discovers that her mother’s gift is hers also. She begins to sell herself to older men to feed her siblings: at the tender age of 12 years old.

Jaya Mehta’s world could not be more different from Rasa’s. The only child of a high-end condo developer, he and his parents live in resplendent wealth in a Honolulu hilltop mansion. His every physical need is fulfilled, his wishes granted, his future secured. But there’s just one problem–his traditional Gujurati parents think they have a daughter, not a son. They scold him for cutting his hair, for wearing androgynous clothing, for not taking his future marriage plans seriously, for not connecting with the “right” kids at his uppity elite prep school. In addition, his parents’ marriage is a sham with his father sleeping with multiple women behind his mother’s back, his mother developing raging bulimia to cope, and drunken screaming matches nearly every night of the week. In the midst of the chaos, Jaya the person, the child, the individual is mostly ignored and left to raise himself.

Flash forward several years, and Rasa and her siblings are on their own. Kalindi walked out one night and never came back, leaving them homeless, but not before Kalindi herself took an active role in training her daughter in the art of seduction. It’s not long before Child Protective Services steps in and places the children in foster homes, seventeen-year-old Rasa in one, and the three younger children in another. Rasa’s foster parents seem like great people, until she realizes that they’ve groomed and sold her to one of their friends in exchange for money. High-rolling Romeo pimp Xander is wealthy, snazzy, and violent, and Rasa quickly realizes that in order to keep her siblings safe from Xander’s rage, she has no choice but to comply with his increasingly demoralizing and aggressive demands.

Jaya’s life is much the same as before, except that he’s identified his true gender to his only friend from school, a gay boy named Alika who not only allows Jaya to be himself but offers a level of protection from the school bullies who sneer and threaten him with sexual violence. Jaya’s father’s arrogance has only grown worse in recent years, bribing local officials to let him build on sacred lands, becoming more brazen in his sexual affairs, and Jaya vows to never, ever be like his parents. He will be a gentleman, IF he can ever find a girlfriend.

And then the day comes, a day like any other. Rasa has escaped the busy city to return to her childhood home in rural and beautiful Hau’ula, just for the day. And on the trails of the hills, she sees Jaya. And Jaya sees her. And the connection that flies between them is undeniable, instant–and alien. Rasa’s only ever known men to be sexual and predatory. Jaya’s never known a girl to be into him ever. But their connection only deepens as they realize that they can be completely themselves around each other, and both begin to fantasize separately about building a life together, far from the violence that defines their daily living.

But all is not sunshine and roses. Rasa cannot bring herself to tell Jaya about her situation, for fear of harm to herself, her siblings, and Jaya himself. As her protective defenses fall away, she begins to yearn for a life beyond prostitution, and she vows it will happen–

Yet in the world of calamitous circumstance, fate has a different idea.

This book, guys. So much here. I tore through it. Once again, Sonia Patel does not hold back from confronting the dirt and scars defining so many young people’s lives today. Her years of experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist shine through the pages of this book as she deftly handles themes of isolation, desperation, and redemption.

What is striking is that she writes her characters like real teenagers. Rasa is old and wise beyond her years when it comes to survival. But she’s still a teenager. Many adults would say, “She should just call the cops! Or tell someone!” But Rasa’s sexually traumatic background at the hands of her own mother means that her brain literally cannot make that connection as it links to her own survival and the survival of those she loves. Think about that. Her mother was her first pimp. And this family-style solicitation is a lot more prevalent than what people care to admit. My years working with teens in the mental health system taught me more than anyone would ever be comfortable knowing about how many parents, grandparents, older siblings, uncles, aunts, and family friends willingly and forcefully sell these children to others before they’re even old enough to understand the concept of consent. And these experiences alter brain chemistry and neural pathways enough that a girl like Rasa is nearly physically incapable of making positive changes on her own. This reminds me of a major theme my students studied this past year of “What Survival and Bravery Mean,” in that not all heroes act heroically in the eyes of the outside world.

Jaya, too, walks a confused line. He takes solace in the depressing world of 90s Seattle grunge icon, Kurt Cobain. His blooming relationship with Rasa is fraught at times. He knows she’s lying to him about where she goes when she’s not with him, but his inherent class and social privilege blind him from knowing the depths of the near primal desperation to survive when one’s physical safety and needs are constantly threatened. Instead, he falls deeper into the self-loathing so recognizable to the LGBTQ community: “I must deserve this hell because of who I am.”

My biggest critique is that I would have liked to see more development of the class issues facing Jaya and Rasa’s relationship. It was referenced multiple times but not in the complexity I would have personally enjoyed. Also, I would have loved to know more about Jaya’s self-discovery process. What books, websites, magazines, etc did he peruse to learn more about gender identity?

The Hawaiian paradise in which this book is set is a beguiling facade to the underbelly that permeates every community. People do not come out looking good and holy in this book. No one is immune. But through it all, both Jaya and Rasa retain their resilience and their belief that love can make a difference.
- July 16, 2017  Visit Website
The Loud Library Lady
Powerful, raw and completely unfiltered mature YA that deals with incredibly complex topics.
Powerful, raw and completely unfiltered mature YA that deals with incredibly complex topics

This is a BOOK. You know, the kind of book that gets under your skin and makes you wonder…..did I really want to read about all of that? You know……sex trafficking, rape, drugs, child abandonment? Oh, and parental unacceptance of a teen’s gender identity? And bulimia? And racial and cultural identity and colonialism? I mean, it’s not happy. It’s not pretty. It makes you FEEL things. And THINK about things. Things you don’t want to believe exist. It makes you squirm and hate the world for letting these things happen to our children. So, do you really want to read it? Should there be YA books about these topics?

Well, the answer is yes. Yes, I want to read about all of that. And yes, there should be books about these topics. First of all, as a teacher, these issues need to be in front of me. Books need to open my eyes to what teens in our world are dealing with – and Patel knows this firsthand through her work as a psychiatrist working with teens. She knows what she writes. And yes, there are teens who need to read stories like this one. There are teens going through these exact struggles and needing to know they are not alone.

Jaya and Rasa certainly isn’t a book for every teen (because what book is??), but I do recommend that every teacher, administrator and guidance counselor read it. It should be in library collections and guidance offices because even if there is just ONE student who needs it in any given population, it should be available. And as Rasa shows us in the book, we don’t know which teen needs it. I appreciate the terseness of the writing style and the readability of the text, making it accessible to virtually all levels of YA readers.

I thank Patel for having the bravery to write this story and go where the majority of YA authors don’t (won’t?) go.
- August 9, 2017  Visit Website
Booklist Online
Patel’s captivating prose and memorable characters immerse readers in a tense situation ... A moving story of the healing powers of unconditional love.
Sonia Patel’s second novel (after Rani Patel in Full Effect, 2016) is another bittersweet, Hawaii-set story involving gender, class, and love. Jaya has always felt more tied to the male stars of Bollywood movies Jaya’s mother watched than to the body Jaya was born in. Rasa, meanwhile, in order to keep her family alive, has taken on her mother’s trade of prostitution. A serendipitous meeting allows Jaya and Rasa to discover a love that helps them cope with the harsh, upsetting realities of their daily lives. For instance, Jaya’s mother, refusing Jaya’s claim that he’s a man, wants him to take a traditional Indian husband. And Rasa is afraid to leave her pimp, as it might put her little siblings in harm’s way. Patel’s captivating prose and memorable characters immerse readers in a tense situation. Though the book admirably tackles a myriad of issues, it does seem to rush near the end. Readers’ hearts will ache to know more about the aftermath. A moving story of the healing powers of unconditional love.
- September 1, 2017  Visit Website
Kirkus Reviews
Patel has written a book so intense and messy that it may just reflect real life in a way that neither fairy-tale endings nor outright tragedies can do.
Rasa and Jaya live totally different lives in Hawaii, each struggling to find themselves when they find each other. Teenage Rasa supports herself and her younger siblings by doing the sex work she was groomed to do by her mother. When they are abandoned, Rasa is put into a separate foster home from her siblings. A sense of stability begins to take hold in her until her carers sell her to a sadistic, wealthy pimp who terrorizes and gaslights her until her identity is obliterated. Meanwhile, Jaya lives a life of privilege in a wealthy Gujarati family, but their picture-perfect life is a lie he detests. His father cheats on his mother, they both drink excessively, and they pressure Jaya to be the ideal daughter. Jaya knows he's trans but isn't sure how to tell them that he's a boy and is never going to marry a wealthy man. One day, Jaya sees Rasa picking liliko'I fruit and is sure he's seen a goddess. A budding romance turns dark as Jaya's paranoia about Rasa's caginess and dishonesty comes to a head and they learn the truth about each other. Readers may find it difficult to reconcile how they feel about Jaya toward the end after rooting for him the whole way through, as there's some unanswered abuse in his reaction to finding out who Rasa really is. Nevertheless, Patel has written a book so intense and messy that it may just reflect real life in a way that neither fairy-tale endings nor outright tragedies can do. (Fiction. 14-18)
- September 1, 2017  Visit Website
Utopia State of Mind
TW: homophobia, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts/attempted suicide, drugs, prostitution, and abuse.
Full of diversity and complex issues, Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story is a must read for anyone who wants to read about two complex and incredibly endearing main characters. Their struggle for love, acceptance, and safety, is one that is, at times, difficult to read, but entirely necessary, because of the weight of the topics it discusses.

Jaya has had it all: servants, wealth, two parents. But there have always been cracks beneath the surface. Rasa has had nothing: an absent mother, three siblings counting on her, and poverty that leaves her sacrificing meals. Neither knows what it is like to find love that is warm, accepting, and loving. Miraculously they find each other, against all odds. But can their love survive the world they live in? A world in which Jaya’s transgender identity causes depression and hate at school, where Rasa is under the thumb of a violent abusive pimp. Can they hold onto the pure love within their hearts, or will they succumb?

As you might be able to tell, the plot is incredibly intense. TW: homophobia, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts/attempted suicide, drugs, prostitution, and abuse. It can feel heavy and even tragic at times, but what pulls you through are the main characters of Jaya and Rasa. They are resilient, endearing, compassionate, and tender. Their vulnerability, fragility, and love makes you root for them and want to read onwards – to find out if their love is strong enough to triumph over the external forces. We grow up with them, not only by seeing each of their different perspectives, through alternating point of views, but also as they grow up from nine to seventeen.

Jaya and Rasa by Sonia Patel, The Difficult Topics

Even though the book is undeniably complex, I found the issues it deals with to be one of the strongest points of the book. Patel does not shy away from difficult topics such as immigration, identity, and parents. In this discomfort, this unsettling sadness, there is opportunity for knowledge and growth. There is a nuance and strength in the way Patel describes and talks about these issues. (I have neither suffered from any of the aforementioned TWs, nor am part of the cultures that Jaya and Rasa belong to, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of Patel’s descriptions. Patel’s website makes it seem like they grew up in Hawaii, in a Gujarati family).

Patel doesn’t offer us answers, doesn’t even suggest that love is the way to solve these problems. Instead Patel merely shows us the cracks within these families. One of the largest themes I found in the book, is that those who we count on for love, acceptance, and help, are often the ones who take advantage of Jaya and Rasa. This would be demoralizing to the bone, but still our main characters are able to recognize that there is still goodness and love within – especially from those who have no ‘duty’ or ties to us.

Jaya and Rasa
While there may be heavy hitting issues, there were undeniable moments of light. I loved the cover and even more so after reading the book. Jaya’s trans-journey was fantastic to read, especially as we witness the progress as he grows up. Rasa’s spiral into prostitution was nuanced, tinged with need and expectation. In addition, there are light hearted moments throughout the book – even those tinged with loss. Jaya and Rasa’s love of Nirvana was precious (and brought me back to some of my favorites). Their feelings of attraction and love were brilliant rays of sunshine. Additionally, the side characters of Rasa’s siblings and Jaya’s friends were amazing. There was support, love, and so much more. (I did miss some of the sibling interaction in the latter half of the book).

This book is just fabulous because of its depth, its characters, and its ability to transition between the bubbling feelings of new love and the sadness of situations beyond our capability or control. Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ detract from the other, instead showing the interaction they have within our lives. Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story is exactly that, a love story, but full of so much more and left with an ending that hands the reins over to us, the reader. It is a compelling read and one that I am still thinking about days later. That’s the type of book this is – one that will get under your skin.
- September 6, 2017  Visit Website
Publishers Weekly
Sonia Patel (author of Rani Patel in Full Effect) writes with fierce simplicity throughout, allowing the gritty beauty of her story to shine.
Jaya Mehta and Rasa Santos are an unlikely pair, but when they meet in the mountains of Hawaii, an “honest love” flourishes between them. Jaya, a transgender teen from a wealthy Gujarati Indian family, finds solace in the heavy guitar riffs of Nirvana, which provide an escape from bullying, his parents’ dysfunctional marriage, and his loneliness. Rasa, raised in a shack by a mother who works as a prostitute, has had to scramble to provide for her younger siblings, resorting to prostitution herself at age 13. Both Jaya and Rasa find understanding and acceptance in their whirlwind romance, even as the expectations and maneuverings of the adults in their lives loom large. Patel’s third-person narration shifts between the two teenagers, though the brutal details of Rasa’s story—including that her mother groomed Rasa to follow in her footsteps—sometimes overshadow Jaya’s perspective. Readers may be surprised that half the book goes by before Rasa and Jaya even meet, but Patel (Rani Patel in Full Effect) writes with fierce simplicity throughout, allowing the gritty beauty of her story to shine. Ages 12–up.
- September 15, 2017  Visit Website
An unforgettable and brave love story … you’ll be rooting for these two from page one.
An unforgettable and brave love story
Sometimes true love is found under a pile of cliches: a twinkling disco ball, cheesy ’80s dance music, and a big poofy dress. Sonia Patel’s Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story is not that kind of love story. Her powerful novel takes readers to lush Hawaii and introduces us to Jaya, a trans teen boy who falls for Rasa, the daughter of a prostitute. There’s no shortage of obstacles — from meddling parents to complicated family histories — standing in the way of their love, which is why you’ll be rooting for these two from page one.
- September 30, 2017  Visit Website
Midwest Book Review
"Unreservedly and enthusiastically recommended for both high school and community library YA Fiction collections."
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? All the more impressive when considering that this is author Sonia Patel's first YA Fiction novel, "Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story" is a deftly crafted and consistently entertaining novel that will grasps the readers full attention from beginning to end. While unreservedly and enthusiastically recommended for both high school and community library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that "Jaya and Rasa: A Love Story" is also available in a paperback edition (9781941026878, $11.95).
- December 1, 2017  Visit Website

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