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Packed with Action

Girija Asthana

By Asha Nehmiah
Scholastic India, 2006, pp. 98, Rs. 125.00


Overall, The Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula is an engrossing read. At just under 100 pages, it manages to pack a lot of action and drama and leavens it with a healthy dose of humour that will keep its young readers engaged till the very end.   The strength of this book lies in its excellent development of characters, which is done quickly and efficiently. Readers will warm quickly to the characters of Paati, Damu and Laila and Viks and will cheer them on in their triumphs over the bumbling burglar Khabardar and the scary Dr. Nandini. Clearly, though, the ‘hero’ of the character is the awesome Paati; readers are sure to admire this action hero, tree climbing grandmother who dives in the sea for her own seaweed while easily vanquishing the villains with a panache that even Shah Rukh Khan would envy. You also cheer Damu on, who wins the hearts of the readers with his good-natured ‘everything’s possible’ attitude as he selflessly helps Paati and her family navigate the treacherous terrain of Maunashramapur. The character of the two grandchildren, Laila and Vikas, could have done with a little more development—there is no explanation as to why Laila has had to do everything for Vikas due to which she has become so bossy and Vikas, lazy.   Nehemiah uses her words skillfully to weave a beautiful picture of the jungle as well as the town of Maunashramapur. She brings to life the jungle of ‘Tarzan vines’ and ‘sleeping grasses’ that will keep the children entertained and wanting more. The few ingredients of the secret formula we are exposed to are also very original and will make everyone wonder what the other ingredients could be. Additionally, the alliterative insults from Dr. Nandini are sure to bring a smile to the reader, though towards the end it seems to be have been overused.   The big opportunity in the book lies in an under-cooked plot. For a generation that has been brought up on a diet of Harry Potter and is therefore used to complex plots with many characters, the plot of this book will not be challenging enough. The reason behind the dastardly plot that the villains hatch will seem weak when compared to what the increasingly savvy pre-teen is reading in other books. After all, world domination and the search for immortality will always be difficult to top but ...

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