Uma Krishnaswami, a prominent Indian-American children’s writer with several picture books, short story collections, and a young adult novel to her credit, has come out with this new novel for children 8 to 12 years old. My 11-year-old son, who is a born literary critic and aspiring playwright, says there are two kinds of novels for children—novels which are written in a formal style and novels which are written “in a fun way” and speak to the reader. The Grand Plan to Fix Everything belongs to the second category. It has playful sentences, a heroine with a crazy mission, colorful characters, and an exotic setting with Dream Mountains and mischievous monkeys.
Yet, not everything is as frivolous as it seems. Dini, the heroine, knows life is more than just coincidences. Her contemplation of destiny will get young readers to philosophize. She will earn their empathy as she experiences the highs and lows of friendship and goes about trying to fulfill her mission.
Dini is obsessed with Dolly, a Bollywood actress, whose first movie was released the very day her fan was born. Dini and her friend Maddie look forward to learning dance moves in Bollywood camp in the coming summer, but Dini’s mother drops a bomb when she announces that the family will be moving to a small town in India, blissfully unaware of the effect the news will have on her daughter. A devastated Dini thinks “(Rural) India is where you see cool places and take trains everywhere, and eat mangoes and custard apples and other fun food. Vacations last for a couple of weeks, or maybe even a whole month. But two years?” Maddie tries to cheer her up by suggesting she might get a chance to see Dolly again, but Dini knows India is a big country. One of the novel’s delights is the delineation of their friendship.
Dini writes a letter to her Bollywood idol, inviting her to visit Swapnagiri. Much to her surprise, she discovers that Dolly is in the little town Dini’s family will settle in. As she plans to meet her star, Dini muses on the workings of fate, concluding, “Kismat ki baat hai…. (Fate) is about things that were just meant to be, like Dolly being in Swapnagiri when all the commonsense in the world might suggest she’d be in Bombay, the center of the filmi universe.”
Abigail Halpern’s illustrations add to the charm of the storyline. Dini and Maddie are appealing and their friendship is superbly conveyed in the pictures. Dolly has the aura and flashiness of a star. The plot of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything has a tidy and satisfactory ending, but it would have been insightful to know Dini’s opinion about the actress at the conclusion, particularly since the writer so eloquently states at the start, “Really, Dolly is … all the things that Dini absolutely seems to be at some time in the future when her life becomes perfect.”
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything is an enjoyable read, a piece of light fiction with a thoughtful heroine who works hard to make her fantasy come true. When one’s dreams are achieved, the experience often seems surreal. As the last sentence of the novel proclaims, “Like a fillum, only better.”
Tara Menon is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts.