Sisters at New Dawn by Varsha Seshan is a coming-of-age story of two sisters, Padma and Kannagi Shankar. Most of the action of the story takes place at New Dawn, a high school that is committed to fostering values of ‘honesty, integrity, justice’ in the students enrolled there. Creative and innovative thinking is encouraged and rewarded at this institution; a detail that is reflected in the composition of the subjects offered. For instance, where the subject titled ‘Pot of Gold’ foregrounds imagination, ‘Maths and Beauty’ illustrates how arithmetic and proportions are related to matters of aesthetics. This has the effect of reducing mathematics from a terrifying and drab subject to one that’s manageable and relatable. In its portrayal of such inventive and otherworldly subjects, the text is rather reminiscent of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Whether it’s the portrayal of the house system or innovative end-semester project work; the depiction of bullies running amok or an unidentified family secret, a sense of fascination, mystery and adventure is dispersed throughout the text. New Dawn is represented as an inclusive space, where an earnest commitment to original and visionary ideas substitutes standardized education. Of the two sisters, where Padma is easy going and adjusting, Kannagi is analytical and unyielding. However, there is something for both of them to learn at this school. It is because of friendships, affections and their invincible spirit, that the sisters are able to navigate through hierarchies and intimidation. Also, towards the close of the text, the author attracts attention to every child’s right to equitable quality education.
The resolution of the plot however struck me as a tad bit contrived.