Yasemin and Nirmala: a tale of two teens

“Yasemin and Nirmala: A Tale of Two Teens” tells the story of Yasemin McGinty-Mahsud, a fifteen-year-old Pakistani-American teen who loses her right arm in an accident, and that of fifteen-year-old Nirmala Rao-Sumatzkuku, a South-Asian/Native-American teen who is confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. The story begins with the celebration of Yasemin’s fifteenth birthday, a celebration marred by her own ‘navel-gazing’, as her BFF Natalie Riccardo reminds her. Her self-hatred increases when the school plans to stage “Seussical Musical” as the end-of-the-school-year event. She assumes that her ‘unfinished’ body will automatically exclude her from participating in the play – her father’s mention of Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Richard III, and the king’s “deform’d, unfinish’d” body haunts her as she indulges in even greater self-pity.
The arrival in school of Nirmala Rao-Sumatzkuku, girl challenged by cerebral palsy, transforms Yasemin’s limited perspective of the world around her. Nirmala’s South-Asian father Mahesh Rao, and Hopi mother Chu’si Sumatzkuku have home-schooled her all these years. But her strength of purpose, positive attitude towards life, and irrepressible whimsy encourage them to send her to a brick-and-mortar school. Although her cerebral palsy limits her speech and movements, Nirmala’s buoyancy of spirit immediately wins over many of her classmates. The same spirit intrigues Yasemin, who is at first suspicious of Nirmala’s lust for life. Suspicion very soon changes to gratitude and admiration as Nirmala asks for her help in writing a musical entitled “My soul for a Jelly Donut.”
Yasemin’s neighbor, an old Jewish man called Jakob Cohen, is yet another source of inspiration and comfort. Yasemin senses the depth of grief the old man feels at the loss of his wife. She discovers a new awareness of life around her, of neighbors she had hitherto ignored or was unaware of. She hears Mr. Cohen play the violin. Her own passion for singing forges an unusual bond between the two. He accompanies her on his Steinway. Mr. Cohen’s grandson Jeremy joins him on his viola, and love is in the air!
Much to Yasemin’s mixed emotions of delight and anxiety, Nirmala gives her a prominent role in the musical. Cast opposite to Ravi Beresford, a line-backer who has stolen many a heart, she has many a ‘What ifs?’. What if he rejected her? What if he were to sneer at her missing arm? These doubts are cast aside when old Mr. Cohen sends her a beautiful dress that had belonged to his wife, and Yasemin’s mother says: “Perfection is in the eyes of the beholder.”