Despite one major factual error regarding same-sex marriage in Hawaii (more on that in a bit), Neesha Meminger’s self-published Jazz in Love (Ignite Books, Jan. 10, 2011) has a back story too common in this day and age—an established writer struggling to get it published.
In an October guest post on The Rejectionist blog, and in an even more recent interview with author Zetta Elliott, Meminger says that after the relative success of her debut novel, Shine, Coconut Moon (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2009), editors were reluctant to take a chance on Jazz in Love even if they enjoyed the manuscript. Meanwhile, readers and librarians kept asking Meminger about her next book. Finally, she realized, as she told Elliott, “it became clear that Jazz would not make it into the world unless I put it out there, I decided to stop waiting.”
Jazz in Love hit shelves this January, and it’s a shame that mainstream publishers couldn’t—or wouldn’t—make room for it on their lists, as it would have made a great paperback original. Sometimes, you’re not looking for a book that will stun you with its brilliance or literary merit, but something that’s easy to enjoy, with a nice mix of lighthearted and serious moments. That’s what Jazz in Love delivers.
After Jasbir “Jazz” Dhatt is seen hugging a guy in public, her parents decide that it’s time for her to find a husband. Oh, they don’t need to marry her off right away—Jazz is only 17—but they can certainly pick and meet the future husband now. Jazz is horrified by this possibility; there’s a hot new guy at school, Tyler, she’s much more interested in. Luckily, Prospective Husband No. 1 is an affable guy with no interest in marrying Jazz, and they agree to pretend to go along with the match so their parents will get off their backs.
Jazz’s fear of arranged marriage is also partially motivated by the experience of her Auntie Kinder, a close family friend who fled an arranged marriage after her husband “had apparently mistaken Auntie Kinder for a punching bag.” After learning about Auntie Kinder’s youthful romance with another man, Jazz recruits her two closest friends, Cindy and Jeeves (who obviously has a crush on Jazz), to assist in her plans for reuniting Auntie Kinder with her old love interest.
I was pleasantly surprised by the resolution to Jazz’s love triangle, which deviated from the aforementioned predictability. I also appreciated how Jazz’s identity as an Indian American and Sikh are an integral part of the story without overwhelming it—a few conflicts arise due to Jazz’s ethnic and religious background, while others are more universal. What made Jazz in Love most enjoyable, though, was the narration, which reminded me a bit of Meg Cabot both in its humor and how Jazz remained endearing even when you know she’s making a mistake.
There is, however, an error near the end of the book—a character says same-sex marriage is legal in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure that my reaction when I read this was to say, out loud, “Uh, no. It’s not.” Civil unions in the Aloha state aren’t even legal since former Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed House Bill 444 last year. It’s a pity that this one line—just one line!—was enough to detract from a mostly predictable but nevertheless fun read. Since Meminger self-published Jazz in Love, perhaps she can quickly correct the same-sex marriage error so I can happily recommend the book.
[Ed note: Since publication, the author is in the process of correcting this error in her book. Please check her blog for updates on Jazz in Love.]
Trisha Murakami is a young adult librarian in Hawaii and blogs at The YA YA YAs.