21 Growing Up Stories is a collection of short stories that tracks the trials and tribulations of young adults, as they navigate a world teeming with uncertainties and new dynamics. Under the radar are a variety of issues, from self-worth to belonging, from bullying to self-preservation, from coping with loss and grief to adapting to change, to the insecurities triggered by peer pressure. The collection is brought out by the AWIC (Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children) that comprises veteran writers, some of whom have been writing stories for children for decades.
Most of the stories are set in an urban landscape, and a couple or so in the village. In ‘The Bully’, and ‘Howzatt!’ the targets of bullying learn the hard way to stand up for themselves, while the bullies seek redemption in humility. ‘Lakeside Adventure’, ‘Bitter Biscuits’ and ‘Kidnapped’ have youngsters showing their presence of mind and energy to escape from potentially life-threatening situations. In ‘Changing Homes’, two city-born siblings adapt reluctantly to change, whereas in ‘Mercury Blue’ and ‘Sam and Floe’, two young girls grapple with self-acceptance. ‘Ganpati Bappa Morya’ and ‘The Case of the Missing Frogs’ explore how young adults engage with environmental concerns, while ‘Duffer’ shows that the distinction between being a ‘duffer’ and a ‘champ’ is only a matter of perception and prejudice.
The themes represented in this collection are timeless and universally pertinent. They have and will continue to preoccupy young people. However, the progression and depth of the plot and narrative of most stories is very basic, with the focus being on delivering a specific message, and concluding in a quick fix, the delineation of characters minimal.
Though well intentioned, this collection delivers a pat resolution and recompense. For some young readers, it may provide a sense of empathy and succour, but to others, looking for a more complex interplay of social and personal, inner and outer dynamics that truly represents their reality, it will not be adequate.
The realities, particularly that of the urban teenager and their caregivers, have changed dramatically over the years. The layers added by exposure, either from the opening of global influences and boundaries, or from social media, have caused young people to evolve into über-aware beings, much more conscious of the world and their place in it than those of previous generations. Perhaps it is for another book to address those realities, one that will delve into the subtle nuances and layers of the world and psyche of youngsters.
Aradhana Bisht has worked as an editor with several publishing houses, including HarperCollins,Penguin Books India and Westland. She had also written a book, Russian Folktales Retold.