First and foremost, Asha and Reet are sisters.
Their dad — Baba — has lost his job in 1974 Delhi India and decides to see if he can find a job in America. Since they don’t have enough savings to send the entire family, Asha, Reet, and their mother go to live with Baba’s family in Kolkata, in West Bengal. It’s not a happy time for any of the women: the sisters are not only forced to stop attending their school in Delhi, but are increasingly pushed into more traditional roles than they experienced previously. And their mother — whom her in-laws have never approved of — is constantly under the influence of what the girls call her “Jailor”: a black depression that is hard to shake.
It’s more Asha’s story than Reet’s; Reet in many ways felt inaccessible to me as a reader: she’s the perfect model of a traditional Indian woman, and although she’s sympathetic, she’s just not all that interesting. Asha, on the other hand, is a fascinating mix between the need to be traditional and please her family and her desires — in part fueled by the feminist movement in the U.S. — to be her own woman. It’s Asha’s secrets we are privy to, and care about, as well as her desires: whether it’s her desire to be a psychologist (unheard of at this time in India) or to play tennis and cricket, or — more importantly — her growing fondness for the boy next door. And the decisions she makes, as well as the secrets she ends up keeping, are unexpected and yet make perfect sense.
Perkins has written a compelling tale that works on so many levels: it’s a love story, it’s a story of sisters, it’s a story of tension between old and young, it’s a story of second chances. And, because of this, it’s a story that will be treasured.