Nirvan Shrivatsava steps into Shore Mount, a posh residential school, with the weight of his lineage on his young shoulders. Three generations of Shrivatsavas, including his parents and older brother, have been stars at the same school and Nirvan is uneasy with his legacy. Third Best is a coming of age novel that traces Nirvan’s life from Class VII to Class XII—from being a bullied junior to a respected senior. Though much of the episodic plot courses along expected lines, Arjun Rao scores with his realistic portrayal of young people—the way they talk, behave, react and respond. And make out, too. Rao makes no bones about adolescents exploring their sexuality and it is a relief to read a book for young people that is not judgmental or moralistic about a very natural part of growing up.
Shore Mount is a world by itself, with rules and codes both written and unwritten. For instance, it is all right for a senior boy to date a junior girl but not all right for a junior boy to date a senior girl! And anyone who breaks this code is liable to get some hockey stick treatment.
Nirvan, along with his friends, the handsome Faraz and the bumbling Gautam, work their way through this system, falling, failing, and yet managing to keep their heads above the water.