Name: What Maya Saw
Author: Shabnam Minwalla
Price: Rs 299
Journalist-turned-author Shabnam Minwalla is a self-proclaimed murder mystery buff, who gobbles up crime novels endlessly. The genre pours in effortlessly in her books. A proud author of four popular children’s books, Minwalla’s fifth offering for young readers lives up to her love for magic, mysteries, treasure hunts, girl power and Mumbai.
All of Minwalla’s books so far have been set in Mumbai, the city where the writer is based. What Maya Saw is dedicated to her alma mater, St Xavier’s College. The dedication on the first page reads: ‘For St Xavier’s College ... the happiest corner in Mumbai.’
But the story, which unfolds in its fictional replica called St Paul’s College, is anything but a happy place. At least for ‘almost’ 15 year-old Maya — the star schooler invited to the prestigious Summer School at St Paul’s.
The geeky class topper, who has been struggling to fit in among her fashionable and happening classmates at school, suddenly finds herself leading a deadly hunt for clues at St Paul’s along with her new know-it-all classmate Veda. From being invisible, Maya becomes the most wanted girl, as she can see what no one else can.
What follows is a war-like situation with zombies, secrets tumbling out of folios at the college’s Zoology Department, the herbarium, the dusty library, the deserted chapel and horrific gargoyles. Amidst heart thumping moments laden with fear, Maya must believe in her inner goodness, get rid of self-doubt, be courageous and fight.
In the garb of a fantasy, Minwalla encourages teenagers to embrace themselves the way they are. And not underrate qualities like intelligence and smartness vis-à-vis looking great, dressing fashionably and being the happening one. Her earlier books have consistently revolved around teen girls, who are evident introverts but possess extraordinary gifts.
In What Maya Saw, she once again shows how its cooler to stand out than to fit in. The book is bubbling with stereotypical characters like the ‘all study no play makes my daughter a bright spark’ mother and hoity-toity college girls going crazy over hunks but it also has characters who defy all odds with their presence of mind, knowledge and grit.
Minwalla’s literary style is another huge draw, exposing young readers to some lovely words and expressions. This thriller may essentially be targeted to a younger audience but it’s racy, fun and brainy enough to keep adult readers hooked on to it too. It’s a gripping chase where Mumbai’s history and geography join hands around the Fort area to get to the treasure (here, three keys). As a reader, before you know, you are putting together pieces of the jigsaw puzzle along with Maya and her friends.
In addition, the book has such powerful imagery and intriguing facts about this business district of Mumbai having strong traces of the British era, that the next time you are in Fort, you are certainly going to look out for Goddess Lakshmi’s statue standing on a lotus flower on top of a building if not for the brown clock tower at Crawford Market.