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Koyal Dark

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What's right isn't always popular, and what's popular isn't always right. Or in other words, just because something is classified as “tradition” doesn't necessarily mean it is should stay that way. Sometimes, you must look deep inside yourself and decide if doing what the majority tells you to do is really worth it. These are decisions both Jeeta – from Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet – and Donata – from Daughter of Venice – must make.

In Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet, by Kashmira Sheth, you are launched into the very heart of modern Indian city Mumbai, and thus into the middle of sixteen year-old Jeeta's life: studying hard for her grade finals; helping her sisters cook and clean; and meeting new, more liberal friends – all while bearing her mother's continual griping about getting her daughters married. But Jeeta is the youngest of the three sisters, and isn't quite sure if she wants to be married in the near future, let alone to someone her grouchy mother picks out for her. While one by one her sisters are married off, she meets Sarina, the daughter of the town judge. Soon they become fast friends, and some of Sarina's more radical thinking begins to rub off on Jeeta. Then, she is introduced to Sarina's thoughtful and charming cousin. To Jeeta, Neel is perfect. However, her mother is very intent on getting Jeeta married to someone rich and influential, and Jeeta must decide once and for all what is right.

Daughter of Venice, by Donna Jo Napoli, has a very similar plot. Donata is the daughter of a wealthy Catholic family in sixteenth-century Venice, where only one son and daughter from each family will marry. It just so happens that Donata would be the oldest – if she didn't have a twin sister. Her family must choose between the two, and it is a lot more likely they will choose Laura. Luckily, Donata doesn't really care. There is only one thing she longs for: to be free of the endless responsibilities of a noble girl. Desperate to see the streets of Venice as anybody else would, she disguises herself as boy and takes to roaming the city while her twin Laura covers for her. Soon she meets Noe, a handsome, charming young man who is willing to offer Donata (disguised as “Donato”) a job at his printing shop. Donata learns two things – she is swiftly falling in love, and the man she is falling in love with is Jewish: something strictly forbidden to anyone of Donata's Catholic faith. She leaves her house more and more in order to see Noe, all the while making her family suspicious when she returns. Then, the unthinkable happens: her family announces the daughter to be married – Donata – surprising everyone. Going severely against tradition, Donata makes a decision that changes her life – and the lives of everyone around her – forever.

Jeeta's and Donata's resolution to choose righteousness over custom is clearly illustrated in each of these novels. While the reasons and consequences involved are somewhat different, the theme is consistent throughout both: just because something is classified as “tradition” doesn't necessarily mean it should stay that way. In addition, both selections have strong, dynamic characters. There are many distinctions between the two, a contributing factor being the time difference, but they each have humanistic qualities that make them quite believable. Jeeta, for example, is extremely strong-willed but also blunt with her words, which gets her into trouble often. Donata is clear-minded and determined, but she hides a lot from the people she trusts. In this way, the two girls seem real enough to take shape and walk right out of the books. Further more, the authors of both stories do a master job of crafting a journey for the characters and readers that leave the moral feeling fully earned and realized. There is not a part of their final reward that isn't deserved.

After reading these two books, one thing at least should be clear: what's right isn't always popular, and what's popular isn't always right. Jeeta's traditional customs dictate that marriage should be based on wealth and power, not love. Similar reasons keep Donata and Noe apart – the confining rules of their religion. Yet by the end of each girls' stories, tradition is broken and refuted just by the choice of both characters. They knew that it wasn't right for them not to be able to make their own choices, and instead of just sitting around moping, Jeeta and Donata make the decision to do something about it. While there are many drawbacks to their choices, they show the individuals around them that sometimes, in some places, tradition must be broken.





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