Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vanished by Sheela Chari

vanishedNeela loves to play her veena, a rare antique one sent by her aunt in India, but only  in her own room where no one can hear her.  “She had heard about how some musicians got stage fright, but she was sure that what she had was far worse.  At home she could play all the notes, and sometimes when she closed her eyes, she imagined herself in a concert hall with hundreds, even thousands of people watching her.  But if there was a real, live person in the room other than her parents or her little brother, something happened, as if her notes stuck together and became an out-of-tune, out-of-rhythm mess. Something happened to her, too –shaky knees, a dry throat, and once or twice, she saw spots.”  Nevertheless, she braved her fears and brought her instrument to school for the Instruments Around the World unit.  You would have thought the worst would be over after she played in front of her class, but as Neela was wheeling the large, unwieldy case containing her veena home, a sudden downpour drove her to take shelter in the vestibule of a church.  A well-dressed older man appeared suddenly and offered to let her dry off inside. She knew she wasn’t supposed to go anywhere with a stranger, but it was a church, after all, and she was awfully wet.  She was even more worried when he asked her to leave her veena in the closet while they went into the kitchen to make cocoa, but he was so insistent.  After she barely finished her cocoa, the man (“call me Hal”) disappeared, and when she checked the hall closet, her veena had disappeared, too!  As Neela tries to find out what happened to her veena, she learns a lot of interesting things about its history, like the fact that it is a rare “Guru original,” perhaps the very first one made by the famous veena-maker Guru, and it’s rumored to be cursed!  The veena always disappears and ends up back in the shop in India where it was first sold.  Neela’s relentless determination to solve the mystery leads to the uncovering of more than one person’s secret identity, a kidnapping, and a hair-raising near-accident when the thief pushes Neela off a moving train!  It’s hard to believe this is Sheela Chari’s first novel –it’s such a great story of tradition, family loyalty, music and friendship.  Review by Stacy Church  

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