Jaya is a typical teenage boy interested in his guitar, the band Nirvana and trying to get a girlfriend. But he also has to navigate his wealthy parents’ turbulent marriage and violent fights. Plus, Jaya was born female, and his parents aren’t shy about their expectations for a perfect Gujarati daughter. The kids at school have mislabeled Jaya as a lesbian, rather than transgender. It’s not the easiest life, but Jaya knows he’s far more privileged than others on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Rasa is a young mixed-race girl whose mother pushed her into sex work before she disappeared, leaving Rasa to care for three little siblings. Alone, Rasa is manipulated into increasingly dangerous exploitation and emotional blackmail, but is determined to hide it for the sake of her siblings. When Jaya and Rasa meet by chance on a mountain trail, they begin to see the possibilities of true, supportive love. But will Rasa be able to free herself from her abusers, and will Jaya be able to handle his new girlfriend’s past?
In the second novel from Sonia Patel (Rani Patel in Full Effect), the island of Oahu bursts from the page in vivid detail—from devastating poverty to the real-estate boom, from unparalleled natural beauty to drug-littered bus stops. Jaya and Rasa are compelling characters in their own right, but when they finally meet, it’s as electrifying as Romeo and Juliet’s first dance. Patel has struck a balance of sensuality and youthful tenderness in their courtship, clearly conveying the difference between healthy and abusive sexual encounters. With an open-ended but hopeful final scene, Jaya and Rasa will appeal to teen readers hungry for more diverse—but still romantic—realistic fiction.