In The House of Djinn Shabanu is living in hiding in the family haveli. Her daughter Mumtaz is a fifteen and just beginning to understand the complexity of her family and the life ahead of her. She lives in the household of her uncle and her father's nephew, whom she calls "Baba" and "Uncle Omar". Her father's other wives and her half-sister are cruel to her, treating her like a servant behind her grandfather's back. Mumtaz (nicknamed "Muti") thinks of this relationship as "death by a thousand pinpricks". Mumtaz thinks her mother died when she was a young child. Shabanu faked her death and went deep into hiding in order to protect her daughter's life when her husband died. The poignant love and longing of mother and daughter weaves through the story like sad music.
Muti's best friend is her cousin Jameel, six months older than she, who lives half of the year with his parents in San Francisco. Mumtaz and Jameel are growing up in the crush of old and new cultures; the influence of the West and the traditions of their affluent, powerfully tribal Pakistani families. They love to play tennis and skateboard. They and their friends care about music, shopping, modern western fashions, and developing crushes. The obligations of their families weigh on them and they know eventually the older family members will expect them to take on the responsibilities of the next generation of power and influence.
When Baba begins to show signs of age and illness Muti's anxiety grows. When he passes what will happen to her? Will the family send her back to her mother's family in the dessert? or worse, arrange her marriage to a family acquaintance?
Jameel wants to go to Standford University. Will he be asked to return to Pakistan and take his role in the family leadership before he can seek his own dreams? What about his friendship with the lovely blond girl he has a crush on in California?
The writing is fragrant and smooth. Descriptions of their homes and their activities lead into action and dialog that perfectly expresses the feelings of the characters. I can feel the dry heat of the desert and breath the scented air of the gardens right along with the tensions of the teenagers.
"When Muti was helping to serve tea, Jameel caught her eye and gave her the signal they'd always used for emergency meetings; five fingers spread on the tabletop,he head beckoning slightly with a tilt over the shoulder. it meant five minutes, out in the garden.
Muti waited until Leyla was occupied with giving more orders to the bearers, and slipped out the French doors that led to the swimming pool and the gardens beyond. She followed the path beside the pool, through the rose garden, and down to a small garden with a little pond that held Baba's silver-and-orange koi, with a wooden garden swing beside it, where Jameel sat waiting.
"What took you so long?" It was Jameel's turn to smirk. Muti sighed and sank down beside him on the swing.
"Leyla's always watching to take advantage of me. It'll be almost a relief after you've gone, when she'll simply ignore me again!" Muti said."
Suzanne Fisher Staples web site with book descriptions
Author spotlight at Random for Teachers
list of books at Google books
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