Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Paper Boats by Dee Lestari

I don't think I've ever read another book set in Indonesia and I am not familiar with the fairy tales of the culture, but I suspect that Lestari's book is meant to feel like one to readers who are familiar with them. She also hits all of the tropes of the romance genre here with boy meets girl, they are kept apart because of misunderstandings and other reasons, they renew their friendship and this time nothing stands in their way. It's all very charming if not quite as centered on place as I was hoping.

Keenan's parents have called him home from Amsterdam where he has been living with his grandmother for quite a few years, telling him that it's time he go to university and prepare to take over his father's business rather than continue to dream of a life as a painter. Although he doesn't want to give up his dream and is quite a skilled artist, he is a dutiful and loyal son so he returns as requested, meeting his cousin, his cousin's girlfriend, and the girlfriend's dear friend when they pick him up at the airport. He is immediately captivated by the friend, Kugy, who is outgoing, confident, and unconventional. It turns out they will be at university together and they quickly become close friends themselves. In fact, Kugy, who wants to write fairy tales, lets Keenan read what she has written so far, becoming Keenan's artistic muse. Over the next four years, Keenan and Kugy, who are in the same friend group at school, always miss out on being a couple and then finally lose track of each other as Kugy intentionally distances herself from the group. Both of them go on to try to work in the conventional jobs expected of them even though their respective artistic dreams still haunt them. Their misunderstandings and trouble communicating with each other keep them apart despite the fact that they are clearly perfect for each other and need to be together for their artistic sides to bloom and flourish.

The novel feels like a YA chick lit kind of book and the decisions made by some of the characters are wildly frustrating. But then the reader remembers that they are all so very young and so probably realistically drawn despite the frustrations. There didn't seem to be much grounding this in Indonesian culture although the conceit of Kugy writing her dreams out, folding the paper into paper boats, and sending the dreams out to sea via whatever body of water she could find was rather enchanting. Keenan as a character comes across as very naive and despite his life experiences, he still seems to be mostly so at the end of the book. For both of them, the interpersonal relationships with the secondary characters causes some of the plot tension here but they were quite easily solved in the end. Over all a light and sweet book but perhaps just a bit too easy for all that.

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