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Books in Brief: Honey, Don’t Let Him Know

CHILDREN’s

Honey by Sarah Weeks; Scholastic Press, 160 pages $16.99 Ages 8 to 12.

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This funny, charming tale of family and small-town America is a companion novel to Weeks’ critically acclaimed middle-grade novel “Pie.” “Honey” is told in alternating voices of a dog named Mo and a girl named Melody Bishop, who lives with her dad, Henry, a high school humanities teacher, in Royal, Ind.; connection between girl and dog becomes clear only at the satisfying conclusion. Melody’s mother died when she was born; one day Melody hears a snippet of gossip “Henry’s been bitten by the love bug,” and she sets out on a mission to discover what’s going on with her dad. Weeks creates a vivid picture of small-town life and fills her novel with colorful personalities. There’s Bee-Bee Churchill and her Bee-Hive beauty salon with homemade nail polishes, black-and-yellow-striped styling chairs, hair dryers painted to look like bee hives, walls stenciled to look like honeycomb. There’s Gramp-O, Melody’s grandfather, who is tethered to an oxygen tank but still goes out to the garage to “look for a hammer” (really sneaking out for a smoke) and who makes a very vile tuna casserole. There’s Teeny Nelson, Melody’s annoying 6-year-old next-door neighbor (“her plump pink cheeks looked like two dinner rolls sitting on a plate”), Melody’s best friend, Nick Woo, who uses his tech skills (he calls his cellphone Your Majesty) to help Melody solve the mystery. An altogether delightful book. – Jean Westmoore

FICTION

Don’t Let Him Know: A Novel by Sandip Roy; Bloomsbury (244 pages, $25)

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Sandip Roy’s “Don’t Let Him Know” reads more as a collection of linked stories than a full novel. The saga of an Indian family, it zeros in for the most part on two generations: Romola Mitra and her husband, Avinash, and their only child, Amit.

As the book begins, Romola, now a widow, is visiting Amit in California, where he lives with his American wife and young son. One evening, he gives her a letter he has found in an old address book, a plaint of sorts sent many years before from a former lover named Sumit. “Romola sat there in Amit’s armchair slightly stunned,” Roy writes. “After all these years how could she have been so careless? She knew she had saved the letter, unable to destroy it the way she should have years ago. She remembered reading it and rereading it, each word striking her like a sledgehammer, cracking her open over again and again.”

And yet, we learn in the following chapter, which takes us back to the early days of Romola’s marriage, the letter was meant for Avinash. This is the secret conflict at the center of the novel, so veiled Romola cannot even speak of it.

Roy understands this territory from all sides; born in India, he spent years in San Francisco before returning to Calcutta, where he now lives. He is a senior editor at the news site Firstpost and has covered LGBT issues for NPR. At its best, “Don’t Let Him Know” merges – or, more fundamentally, presents – this clash of sensibilities: Indian and American, traditional and tolerant.

For Romola, a virgin in an arranged marriage, the issue of her husband’s sexuality is so overwhelming as to be incomprehensible … although what can she do? Nothing except to make the best of it, to try to put the past behind her, to use silence as a shield.

The same is true of Avinash, who brings her for a year to Carbondale, Ill., where he is completing graduate studies, before returning to Calcutta, where he settles into a life that is constrained. “I have a good job,” he tells Sumit, when they are reunited, briefly. “My mother is happy. She has a grandson. Romola takes good care of her. And I adore Amit.” The unanswered question belongs to Sumit. “But are you happy?” he asks.

What Roy is getting at is quiet desperation, the sense that opportunity has passed. This makes Avinash something of a tragic figure – or would, if “Don’t Let Him Know” could settle long enough on him for us to plumb the depths of his interior. Roy, though, has opted for a more kaleidoscopic structure, one that moves through time, from character to character, in which the novel is developed as a panorama rather than a direct line. This has its charms, to be sure; if nothing else, it allows us to meet and re-meet the people here from a variety of angles and perspectives. At the same time, it only diffuses the effect of the larger narrative.

– David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times