Nandini Nayar’s novel Don’t Tell Your Mother will put you in the shoes of Ritu, a curious thirteen-year-old girl living in a seemingly nondescript suburban neighborhood called Gulmohur Avenue. When Ritu decides to explore the ruins of a demolished house against her mother’s wishes, she begins to unravel the sinister reason why she and her little brother Raj are the only children living on the cat-infested street: beneath those ruins lives something that should never have been disturbed from its slumber.
Don’t worry: we won’t spoil what’s waiting for you under the ruins of that house. What we can tell you is, when we first read Don’t Tell Your Mother, Nayar’s evocation of the bittersweet feeling of flipping through childhood memories took us back to that place of unfiltered emotion only children and teenagers know. When the adult Ritu turns the pages of her past, so do we, and with each recollection comes nostalgia for the familiar comforts of childhood: the indulgences of a mother, the sense of delight at the simplest joys—impromptu noodles, the exploratory allure of a forbidden, mysterious house—which just as easily turn into a vivid recreation of a child’s fear of the world and its unseen, unfathomable dangers.
In the tradition of the best dark fiction for children and young adults, Don’t Tell Your Mother literalizes the night terrors and anxieties of children, giving them flesh, all the better for a child to find the resolve to defeat them. It’s a novel that knows the monster under a child’s bed from a growing child’s fear of being alone against the world, of being unloved and neglected, of not having someone to call out to in the dark. It also knows that sometimes, growing up means learning how to withstand that darkness on your own, and realizing that the people who love you can’t hold your hand forever.
For adults and teenagers alike, Don’t Tell Your Mother brings home the challenges of growing up and facing your fears.