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The Fellowship of Mumbai
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MISSION MUMBAI by Mahtab Narsimhan is an unexpected and powerful addition to middle grade novels. The story of two boys, it is told from the POV of a white American kid named Dylan Moore. Dylan is, on the surface, the envy of his best friend, Rohit Lal. Dylan's family is privileged and have everything money can buy. Rohit comes from a middle-class family from Mumbai. He's been studying New York, and everything was made possible by the strings-attached funds of his Aunty Anjali. When Rohit returns to India for his cousin's wedding, Dylan comes along for the ride. What Rohit doesn't know is that Dylan's life isn't as perfect as it seems. Dylan might have wealth and comfort, but his parents are going through a difficult patch with talks of separation. Dylan's mother is cold. Dylan's father is a hard man who wants his son to be something he's not. He wants Dylan to be a jock. Meanwhile, Dylan is a reader who loves fantasy worlds like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. He loves photography and is a truly loyal friend. Still, Dylan doesn't feel the love from his parents and loves being with the Lal family.

What I loved: MISSION MUMBAI is a novel with layers. It's a novel about summer travel, and exploring an exotic new world. It's a novel about friendship and family. But it also deals with body image issues in a delicate way. Dylan says he loves two things: photography and food. He tries all of the foods he's given, no matter how strange they are to him. Then, he'll think about what his father wants him to look like or what he should look like, and he'll do jumping jacks or want to walk an extra few minutes in the hot Mumbai sun. It's heartbreaking, but Dylan maintains an upbeat and positive outlook on life and the trip.

Friendship is one of this highlighted themes in MISSION MUMBAI. Narsimhan pairs two boys from opposite worlds, cultures, and social backgrounds. She gives them a friendship that is bound by their love of fantasy and nerdom. Their friendship is put to the test as Dylan dives into life in India, while Rohit rejects his culture. He wants American things--soda, burgers, pizza, TV. Dylan wants samosas, mango lassis, and Bollywood movies. They're each in possession of something the other wants. Rohit wants money because he believes that'll solve his family's woes. Dylan wants the love and unity of Rohit's family. Their bond is severely tested throughout the book, but they're a pair to root for. Together they get into a LOT of trouble, but they come out stronger in the end.

Mahtab Narsimhan tells a story of India from a foreigner's point of view instead of a native. Had the book been told from Rohit's point of view, the book would have been completely different. Indeed, Rohit is painted as a kid who has been spoiled by American culture. He wants to go back to New York. He wants to explore America. He's already lived in India, and so nothing is new to him. Because we see India from Dylan's point of view, we get to experience it from a new lens. Dylan messes up a lot when dealing with life in India. He isn't accustomed to some social boundaries, and nearly gets mauled by a mob when he tries to push a cow out of a blocked road. There's a learning curve for him, and for the reader who might not know anything about Indian culture.

Verdict: MISSION MUMBAI by Mahtab Narsimhan is a fun and exciting exploration of family, friendship, and life in Mumbai. It will have you laughing and crying while rooting for the Fellowship of Dylan and Rohit.

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