Mission Mumbai: A Novel of Sacred Cows, Snakes, and Stolen Toilets
When aspiring photographer Dylan Moore is invited to join his best friend, Rohit Lal, on a family trip to India, he jumps at the chance to embark on an exciting journey just like their Lord of the Rings heroes, Frodo and Sam. But each boy comes to the trip with a problem: Rohit is desperate to convince his parents not to leave him behind in Mumbai to finish school, and Dylan is desperate to stay in India to prove himself as a photographer and to avoid his parents' constant fighting. Keeping their struggles to themselves threatens to tear the boys apart. But when disaster strikes, Dylan and Rohit realize they have to set aside their differences to navigate India safely, confront their family issues, and salvage their friendship.
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.