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96 Words for Love

Book review by
Nayanika Kapoor, Common Sense Media
96 Words for Love Book Poster Image
Sweet romance mixes with thin take on serious issues.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Good introduction to India, Indian culture, social and political issues in India. Introduces Hinduism and Indian spirituality. Discusses income inequality, education system in the United States, LGBTQ issues, and human trafficking.

Positive Messages

Follow your dreams, pursue what you're passionate about. It's important to connect to your culture and family. Learn about people from other backgrounds -- you may learn a lot from them. Work on the issues that are important to you and use your privilege to fight for justice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character makes mostly good decisions and follows her moral compass. She has a strong desire to care for the people around her. Several characters overcome formidable obstacles such as poverty and human trafficking. Several LGBTQ characters. 

Violence

One character is kidnapped, and another is a survivor of human trafficking.

 
Sex

Main character has consensual sex several times, described in some detail. Many graphic descriptions of kissing and sexual encounters. Reference to "under the shirt" and "under the pants action." Discussion of main character's sexual experience making her an "everything-but" (sex) girl. Reference to a girl being "knocked up" in high school. Reference to shaving "the pubes."

Language

Swearing is not constant, but still prominent. "F--k" and "f---ing" a few times. "S--t," damn," "ass," "boobs."

 
Consumerism

Reference to Instagram, iPhone, Ray-Ban.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Reference to secondary character previously having an alcohol addiction. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 96 Words for Love is about a half-Indian, half-African American girl who goes to an ashram in India to learn about her grandmother, herself, and the world around her. This novel discusses lots of important topics such as trafficking, income inequality, spirituality, and LGBTQ issues. There are several sex scenes, as well as discussions of "under the shirt" and "under the pants action" and graphic kissing scenes. There's some swearing, including a few instances of "f--k," as well as "s--t," "ass," and "damn." A secondary character gets kidnapped, and there's a survivor of sex trafficking.

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What's the story?

96 WORDS FOR LOVE is about a newly graduated high schooler, Raya Liston, who feels a little bit lost. Her grandmother, who was her rock, just passed away, and Raya's not sure she still wants to attend UCLA, which has been her dream since she can remember. When her cousin Anandi asks her to go on an adventure to an ashram in India that their grandmother always talked about, Raya's sure her answers lie there. Her grandmother always knew what to say, and Raya knows that her grandmother left something for her there. New experiences await her there -- ones she wasn't expecting at all. Between romance, new friendships, and self-reflection, will Raya find what she needs before she goes back home to continue on her path?

Is it any good?

This novel does a good job of incorporating important social issues into a sweet love story, but it falls short of exploring them with depth and detail. The setting of 96 Words for Love is unique and gives readers a good introduction to Indian culture and religion and issues the country is dealing with. However, some of the writing and storylines seem forced at times, and the sex scenes in a religious ashram setting feel awkward and jarring. The number of different issues that the book attempts to tackle in one story can be overwhelming for readers.

Overall, the book is a fun read for older teens who are curious about social issues but enjoy a sweet romantic story as well. But it lacks the depth readers expect when tackling such serious issues. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the representation of India in 96 Words for Love. What impressions did you have of India before you read this book? Raya and Kiran talk about how India has lots of different facets: rich and poor, safe and unsafe. Do you see similar patterns in the United States?

  • How well do you think the author wove serious social issues into the central love story? 

  • Before Raya goes to the ashram and discovers a love for teaching, Raya feels lost about what she wants to pursue in college. Have you ever felt confused about what you want to do when you're older? What things are you passionate about?

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