Summary: Living with his mother’s best friend Bundle and her family since his parents died when he was six, fourteen year-old Amrith is left to piece together the mysteries of his past. Although his new family is very supportive, Amrith is still drawn to connect with his blood relatives when the uncle and cousin he never knew he had come visit Sri Lanka from Canada. Being around his older cousin Niresh opens up the past for Amrith, and also ends up revealing surprising truths about himself. Amrith’s anger over his sisters taking up Niresh’s precious time grows, but figuring out the reason for his jealousy leads to complicated and troubling actions on Amrith’s part. Somehow he must come to terms with himself, and find a way accept who he is.
Number of Pages: 274
Age Range: 17-18
Review: Is this truly a teen book? I have my reservations. Although it’s about a fourteen year-old named Amrith dealing with family secrets, identity issues, and fitting in, Shyam Selvadurai’s style of writing is adult. The story itself took a long time to develop, and while it moved pretty quickly for me after I reached the halfway point, it was still a long read. I was frustrated by unanswered questions about Amrith’s father and family, and I didn’t truly understand why Amrith’s uncle hated Amrith’s mother so much.
In the most stunning scene of the book, Amrith nearly drowns his adopted sister on purpose. He thinks it’s because he’s simply jealous of her taking his cousin Niresh’s time and attention, and it took me a while to realise that Amrith doesn’t understand what I did as a reader, that he was really jealous because he wanted Niresh to be attracted to him and not his sister. Niresh’s visit reveals to Amrith that he is attracted to other men. Living in Sri Lanka, Amrith doesn’t even know there’s a proper name for his attraction, but he does know that he needs to keep it a secret. Reading his story provided me with a different perspective, and I wanted to know more about what his life would be like after Amrith realised he was gay.
I appreciated the fact that Amrith had a family that loves him, even though he believes their love will only go so far. I sincerely hope he is wrong about that.
“Niresh leaned back in his seat and looked out of the window. ‘It’s just that when people comment on my accent, it makes me aware that I’m not Sri Lankan. I mean, I’m not Canadian and then, over here, I’m not Sri Lankan. I don’t belong anywhere.'” – Niresh from Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai, page 172
“Just by saying it out loud, just by admitting that it was so, Amrith felt the burden of his secret ease a little. It was all he could do for now. He would have to learn to live with this knowledge of himself. He would have to teach himself to be his own best friend, his own confidant and guide. The hope he held out to himself was that, one day, there would be somebody else he could share this secret with. But for now he must remain silent.” – Amrith from Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai, page 267