A YA novel about Tessa, a fourteen-year-old white girl stuck in a thinly disguised American Osho (Rajneesh) ashram, complete with sexually predatory Indian guru and a whole bunch of white followers eagerly donning Indian names and other scraps from a culture they know nearly nothing about. Tessa’s mother is a long-time spiritual magpie who thinks she’s finally found her destined home, and her father is long gone and completely unavailable. Tessa seeks solace in the arms of a twenty-year-old pothead who does odd jobs for the ashram, whom I would also call a sexual predator except that “predator” suggests some capability for planning, who has sex with her, gets her high, and exposes her to friends who try to rape her.

Having lived in a similar ashram* (thankfully with a guru who was dead and hadn’t had sex with his followers when he was alive), I can vouch for the accurate portrayal of followers eagerly giving over all decisions and thought to a higher authority, mindless cultural appropriation, people given spiritual authority over others exercising it to break up relationships just because they can, and the petty smallness of a life in which even the tiniest sign of interest from the guru is earthshaking, and no other concerns matter.

*I’m sure some ashrams are great, or at least not creepy and cultlike. Mine wasn’t great. Neither was Rajneesh’s, whose Oregon branch was shut down and several arrests were made for deliberately infecting a salad bar with salmonella. Personally, if I was looking for a great ashram, I would avoid ones mostly populated by white folk, or at the very least ask myself why Indians seem to be either avoiding it or are not invited.

The book itself was a bit meh. I would have liked more comedy or more intensity or more punch from the ashram setting. The most vivid portions were Tessa’s drug trips. Despite the obligatory “drugs are bad” conclusion, the trips themselves sounded awesome. They read like writing them up was by far the most fun Blank had while writing the book.

Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] octopedingenue!

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