May 04, 2006


Bhangra Babes. By Narinder Dhami. Delacorte Press. $14.95.

      This is either the conclusion of a trilogy about the Indian-British Dhillon sisters or a setup for yet another book about them. It works either way. The first two books, Bindi Babes and Bollywood Babes, were lighthearted romps about three spoiled girls being raised by their father and encountering their old-fashioned Auntie. The concept is the traditional one of irresistible force (in this case, three forces) meeting immovable object. Narinder Dhami’s skillful blending of Indian and British culture, and her light and unobtrusive style, kept the books interesting even though they were rather short on plot. There were plenty of things happening, but a sense of where the whole enterprise was going was missing.

      Not this time. Bhangra Babes has a definite destination: Auntie’s wedding and her removal from the girls’ lives, allowing them to return to a more surface-level, appearance-preoccupied existence in which their too-pliable father caters to their every whim. The wedding will be reached, it is clear, through the development of a plot in which Amber, Jazz and Geena all have a major crush on a handsome new boy at school: Rocky, who is also a would-be rap star. Amber, the narrator, has the best moves of the three, but of course it turns out that Rocky is not nearly as desirable either as a boyfriend or as a musician as the girls thought he would be. As a result, there is almost a disaster when Auntie’s wedding finally does come around – until Amber saves the day by foisting Rocky off on her super-superficial cousin, Baby. Then, in a twist at the end that makes further books in the series possible, it turns out that even though Auntie is married and moving out of the girls’ home, she is not exactly moving away…

      The tales of the Dhillon sisters are intended for girls ages eight and up, but probably not up by much. They are designed to be chock-full of family values – for instance, Auntie herself has to deal with an overbearing Auntie in this book: her fiancé’s. “We all felt a bit sorry for Auntie, really, but we couldn’t help enjoying the fact that she’d found out what it was like to have an interfering relative. It was karma. Definitely.” But because the Dhillon sisters were so out-of-control and superficial before Auntie arrived, and because Auntie has become less strait-laced as the books have progressed, it is hard to see exactly what family value is being promoted here.

      In the long run, such things may not matter. Readers who find the Dhillon sisters charming, funny and a tad exotic will enjoy this third novel of their adventures, whether there are more to come or not. These books certainly take readers on a pleasant journey, even though they lead to nowhere profound.

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