Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wicked Games - Review

They think they're invincible.
After seventeen very ordinary years of life in small-town America, Amit Pillai suddenly finds himself on a red-eye flight to Kerala. An NRI, he is forced to join the posh Ananthapuri international school, the only school in town that accepts soft boys like him. But this Kerala is faux Americana where its all loud music and lined pockets and there is never enough time to stop and look around. Amit quickly discovers that life here is anything but soft. Struggling with love and identity, he is never quite sure where to draw the line, when his fragile existence at school is rocked by a series of shocking events. What have they done? What are the consequences? And can they live with them?
A roller-coaster ride through the real-time experiences of an Indian teenager, Wicked Games is contemporary school life told like never before.

About the Author

Arjun Krishna Lal spent most of his life in the small Midwestern US town of Cedar Rapids. He moved to Thiruvananthapuram, India, in 2010, where he lived with his parents, grandmother and two dogs, and studied at an international school. At present, he is studying for a BA in journalism in Bangalore.

‘Wicked Games’ is everything that you wouldn’t expect it to be. It’s different than your initial perception, and promises to shake your foundation of thoughts. A novel set in a school campus, and yet not your typical campus romance; a set of teenagers spending most of their times together, and no, it’s not really a conventional tale of bonding and friendship either; peer pressure and the will to shine in the class, to be the teachers’ pet, and well, it’s not one of those student stories that you have come across so often.

And yet, ‘Wicked Games’ still has everything in it – heartbreaks, broken friendships, class room struggles and the like. The difference is that the author has dealt these common subjects in a manner so unconventional that you wouldn’t be able to draw parallel with any other teen novel that you have read.

The plot is clearly based on the life of the teenage protagonist, and the subsequent events unfolding on the backdrop of the school. Amit Pillai, having spent seventeen years in the United States, Cedar Rapids to be precise, joins Ananthapuri International School in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerela. Here he meets different students from different backgrounds, striking up a bond that often fails to find a definition, and yet, holds on, trying to create a space, or rather seek a space of its own.

The characters in the book come in different shades, but there is one common factor in all of them – the search for identity. Their personal problems, and the trauma and the confusion that envelop their lives, and shape their behaviors. They all want to excel, achieve goals and conquer their dreams, but then, the author keeps it real. Not always do they get what they want, leading to a feeling of defeat, dejection and betrayal.

Chitra plays Amit’s love interest in the novel. She is mature and level – headed, and carries a deep affection for him. However, unruly behavior by Amit, aroused by his pangs of jealousy when he finds her friendlier with another guy, does create a distance between the two.  Amit’s guilt, and the willingness to get her back narrate the real life scenarios of modern teens.

And then we meet Amma, a strict guardian to Amit, monitoring his daily routine, with ho night - outs, and making sure he doesn’t surf net when it’s time to sleep. Amma’s strict surveillance irritates Amit, as he tries to invent excuses to hide his activities that he knows wouldn’t be approved by her, often failing, and on most of the occasions the truth comes to light.

‘Wicked Games’ is not your typical candy floss romance. It’s an introspective novel that revolves around the lives of normal teenagers, their dreams, their aspirations, their hurdles and their problems, their judgment, their decisions, and their indecisiveness. It’s a book that stares straight back at you, posing questions, seeking answers. ‘Wicked Games’ stays true to its name, because often life turns out to be a game, dark and wicked, with only the fittest finding a way to survival.

Title: Wicked Games
Author: Arjun Krishna Lal
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Year: 2014
Language: English
Binding: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Teens, Love and Romance
No. of Pages: 352
Price: Rs 250
My Rating: 4/5


  1. Seems like you really liked it...
    I shall look for the book too!

  2. Hey Amrit, I suppose this is really overdue, but thanks a lot for this review! I was worried that Wicked Games would be seen as another "also been" in the genre. I wanted to try my best to depict how life is, growing up in an international school, staying true to how stuff is. The vast majority of the plot (i.e. the blackboard incident, Joanna and the bus) all actually happened during the time I was at school. Most of the characters are directly inspired by my batchmates--after 12th grade, I actually sat down with the people who characters like Tobin, Samu, and Joanna are based on, did interviews, shared early manuscript material etc. Working on the book was one way I kept in touch with everyone :) We'd...well, we'd done a lot of things in school, my batch. And I wanted more than anything to share that with people, to try and show that international school students aren't all a bunch of snobs, and that everyone has genuine reasons for being the way they are. Identity was a complex issue for all of us--my class was made up of ex-expat Malayalis and Maldivians in equal measure. We were all trying to search for who we were. There was always a discrepancy between our little sub-culture and how the world worked on the outside. I'm in college now. Last I heard, the book's apparently been banned at my school, but from what I hear from juniors and my old batchmates, I think it was worth it. Would love to hear from you :) Arjun