London, Macmillan, 2011, 321p
Artichoke Hearts is a beautiful novel. It is the story of Mira Levenson, who starts a diary after joining a writing club at school. Over the course of a month, she encounters romance, loss, and her first period.
But I found this to be more than the typical teenager bildingsroman. Brahmachari made me laugh and cry - and crying is something that does not come from every novel of this vein. Mira is a perceptive and intelligent character - she does not get caught up in her own world, but cares for those around her, and strives to make them happy.
Much teen fiction is written to help young people deal with the things that may be happening to them. As this blog shows, there are certain themes that run through many stories, such as love, loss and teenage mood swings. Many of these novels end up looking like repetitions of each other, with little substance to offer. But Artichoke Hearts is different.
Here, the main challenge facing Mira is the death of her grandmother. They are incredibly close, and Mira is struggling to come to terms with the fact that every journey must eventually come to an end. Some of Brahmachari's readers may be in a similar situation, and I feel Mira's story will help them through this experience. It has definitely been of some solace to me.
Brahmachari's writing is incredible. She writes with clear direction, and her characters are likable, if not lovable. The plot has the right level of complexity, with overlapping events and concerns in Mira's life. It has that delicate offering of hope, too - Mira's grandmother says she has shed the layers that she has built up to protect her heart, and she can move on in perfect peace. Mira's grandmother is wise and offers plenty of anecdotes to help Mira (and thus the reader) through the trauma of loss.
This is a touching novel. It is delicately spiritual and strangely realistic - Mira's story could happen to anyone. And I think that is why it is so emotive. Be prepared to cry.