'Coconut Unlimited' is set in the nineties within an immigrant community. The focus is on adolescence and the trials and tribulations of growing up. Our narrator and main character, Amit, is a first generation British Gujarati.
The novel open with the three characters, Amit, Anand and Nishant who have reunited since their school days for Amit's stag night. After this introductory chapter you are taken back to Harrow in the 1990s where they grow up. Amit has a lot of expectation and pressure from his parents who have high ambitions for him. At school, he and his two friends are marked out as the only Asians in an exclusively white private school. Here, they are subjected to tirades of racial abuse from not only their peers, but also their teachers. Amit also feels estranged from his Asian community. From all this teenage angst, he begins to follow his creativity and create a hip-hop group called 'Coconut Unlimited' with his two pals. 'Coconut' is what he is nicknamed by his sister, as he is considered white inside his racial colouring exterior.
What makes this novel special is that you are able to get to know the characters as real life personalities. Shukla does well to not over describe, making it light and able to relate to. The novel tackles the themes of teenage angst and coming of age as well as cultural differences and finding your identity. As a result, most readers will be able to relate to the characters, regardless of whether they like hip hop music or are brought up in a mixed cultured society. There are many laugh out loud moments where you are reminded of the exuberance of youth and the fashion faux-pas.
I would say that the only way in which this novel disappoints me slightly is that there are several controversial issues are touched upon, but not explored later on. The ending also feels rather abrupt where the characters are rounded off quickly. However, I think this may be the author’s way of showing how teenage friendships wear away through life.
Full of compassion and nostalgia, a great first novel and worthy runner up for the Costa First Novel Award.