A Collage of Moments

Felereen Adorisa Tariang captures the vibe of Gen Z in Polaroid, her novel for young adults

“I believe that when you click with a polaroid camera, you capture the moment as it is without filters and edits.”

This line captures the essence of Polaroid, the debut novel by Shillong-based Felereen Adorisa Tariang, a 21-year-old student of St Anthony’s College.

The protagonist, Leyahra (Leyah, for short) is a romantic whose thoughtful gaze lets us inside her teenage and adult world as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Naïve yet fearless, she stands tall in her quest for meaning in life, whether through the confines of convention or learning how to break the mould. She refuses to be cynical in a world that tries to crush her spirit.

The book starts with a few lines of the 2009 song, Empire State of Mind. New York becomes a recurring motif as young Leyah, a high schooler, dreams of visiting the place. But the song, like Leyah’s world, also reflects Generation Z as global citizens, constantly connected via apps and social media. Different cultural influences are seen, be it American sitcoms or Bollywood. We see this when she observes, “…Kunal Nayyar look-alike, the Indian guy from “The Big Bang Theory”, while another uncle with a turban is doing the ‘balle balle’ move.”

This sets off the story, like a fast-paced coming-of-age Hollywood film. Our protagonist is a quiet, observant, headstrong introvert whose potential to achieve is constantly thwarted by her self-doubt. To the point where her grades suffer. We see her falling in love in school, and later, in college. We are transported to our own teen years when we see her friends teasing her. We smile when the characters refer to their love interests in code names. Readers will relate to Leyah’s struggles. We root for her when she faces heartbreak each time.

Once in college, we see her shifting gears from Science to Humanities.

Gradually, she learns to embrace the ‘new’ – friends, choices and skills – to grow comfortable in her own skin. The book ends with her embarking on a journey to London.

All is not rosy in her world. A constant theme in Felereen’s book is mental health. Generation Z grapples with this; at the same time, they are fearless and they speak up. The subject is tackled with empathy and humour.

Leyah revels in the sense of community that college life offers her. This sense of diversity shows in the music. The songs mentioned add a layer to the storytelling. BTS, the South Korean pop band, Billy Joel, Coldplay and Taylor Swift adds a tinge of nostalgia to being young. Familiar spots like Police Bazar, KFC and Mellow Mood Café captures the vibe of a student locality. Student fests, exams and ‘hanging out’ in cafes remind us of our own college life.

This book is not without its drawbacks – for the old school, the language may be an issue. But language evolves with each new generation. We cannot deny that Chetan Bhagat has shaped the reading sensibilities of the youth.

Leyah says: “I discovered my love for reading quite early on in life when my Dad would buy me fairy tales…I shifted to Nancy Drew with time, then to Harry Potter and then, to all genres,” adding how she loves Dan Brown, Jojo Moyes, Chetan Bhagat and J.D. Salinger, among others.

Readers may wonder about the other characters who shape our protagonist’s world. A good back story makes for a complete reading experience. We wonder about Betty, Jenny, Ryan, Dari, Ethan and Ruby who flit in and out of Leyah’s world. That said, this book is an enjoyable read.

Polaroid gives us a glimpse of how Shillong is rapidly changing. It is a collage of moments – the youth move at the pace of lightning, yet crave for their roots. We live in the age of filters, disconnected from reality as it may seem. Yet, filters are a reality in this moment.

This book is meant for Generation Z as they constantly navigate through different worlds – one that is online and the other, which captures moments through a Polaroid camera in all their stillness.

Writing is never easy. The effort is commendable and Felereen has a long way ahead of her. Sunday Shillong wishes her all the best in her journey as a writer.

Polaroid,

Notion Press Publishing, 2021

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