When Neela’s grandmother sends her a veena from India, she neglects to mention that the instrument is cursed.
Neela Krishnan tries to follow her parents’ advice to take the best of both her cultures: Indian and American. Still, she sometimes feels she is singled out in school because of her heritage. So Neela, a budding musician, is nervous but pleased when she can share her treasured veena with her classmates—until it goes missing. Following clues in hopes of finding it, Neela travels to India to unravel the history of the veena. Well-paced and with moments of family humor—Mrs. Krishnan performs an aarti to drive away back luck (“That’s so unscientific,” according to Mr. Krishnan)—the novel offers a strong cast of characters and richly-described settings; both the legend and the contemporary mystery come alive for readers. This is a study of musicians and the passion that drives them, including, for some, an obsessive desire to own a special instrument. Neela grows as she journeys to find the veena, emerging stronger than before: closer to her family, with new friendships forged and, most gratifying, showing signs of becoming a serious musician. For readers whose interest in veenas is piqued, there is an author’s note with more information.
Chari, in her debut novel, strikes the right note with this engaging, intricate story that spans generations and two countries. (Mystery. 10-14)