About halfway through The Marvelous Mirza Girls, Noreen, an Indian American teenager who is spending a gap year in India with her mother, Ruby, overhears a white American girl talking on her phone at a cafe. “Poor people here have like literally nothing, but they’re happier than so many people in American who have, like, everything. They’ve been such an inspiration,” the girl says. Shortly after, the girl receives a verbal dressing-down that's uniquely Indian and full of pride, serving as something of a mission statement for The Marvelous Mirza Girls.
Noreen and Ruby have traveled to New Delhi to recharge, reconnect and find solace after the death of Ruby’s sister, Noreen’s aunt Sonia. The chic Mirzas breeze through adventures in ancient ruins, have romantic encounters with handsome men and absolutely slay at karaoke parties, all while navigating a culture that’s both familiar and foreign to them. Second- and third-generation American readers will find Noreen’s and Ruby’s experiences inspiring, and the novel’s easy charm, strong mother-daughter relationship and romantic elements recall the best moments of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s “Gilmore Girls” or “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
When a sex scandal erupts involving Noreen’s new boyfriend and his family, the novel embarks on a precarious tightrope walk between tradition and modernity. Through author Sheba Karim’s lens, readers see New Delhi as a complex place of refuge that’s also in need of reinvention. It’s home to breathtaking architecture, delicious food and maybe even wish-granting jinn, but it’s also a city where poverty, toxic air and even more toxic masculinity can be overwhelming.
“For each thing that is true about India, the opposite is also true,” says Noreen. In other words: It’s complicated, just like The Marvelous Mirza Girls.