You may know fashion designer Rachel Roy for her bold prints and vibrant colors. But in 2019, she's trying her hand at a different creative outlet — books. And she's bringing her daughter along for the journey. Rachel Roy and her daughter Ava Dash have written a stunning YA novel inspired by Indian legends, and you can get a sneak peek of the book — 96 Words for Love — below.
Raya Liston is 17-years-old and college-bound for UCLA, where she plans to study English. With her future wide open before her, she's never felt more excited — or more trapped. So when her beloved grandmother dies unexpectedly, Raya decides to take a trip to the ashram in India where her grandmother met and fell in love with her grandfather. There, she hopes to find some clarity about who she is and what she's met to do. There to help with the journey are a cousin who's equal parts infuriating and motivating, a local girl who loves to read, and a mysterious boy who teaches her that in Sanskrit there are 96 different words for love — and infinite ways to feel them all. This modern interpretation of the Indian legend of Shakuntala and Dushyanta is an unforgettable coming-of-age tale about finding a future in the search for your roots.
96 Words for Love isn't available until Jan. 15, 2019, but Bustle is proud to reveal an exclusive first look at the cover — which features Ava Dash herself! — and the first chapter. See it all below:
Chapter 1: Dying Grandmothers and Decisions
My acceptance to UCLA was giving me insomnia.
Talk about first-world problems. I sighed out an annoyed breath and rolled onto my side, wondering if maybe it was time for a new pillow. “Siri, play rainforest noises,” I pleaded.
Instantly the sounds of dripping water and birds cawing filled my bedroom. They basically helped not at all, and I was still wide-awake twenty minutes later.
It was the third night in a row I hadn’t gotten any sleep. Usually I’m the girl who can pass out standing up and sleep for ten hours without even waking up for a bathroom break. But not anymore. I punched my pillow for, like, the thirty-fourth time that night while I decided this was all my best friend Lexi’s fault. She’d definitely kicked off this bout of non-sleeping the moment I’d gotten the email from the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences.
“Ahhh!” she screamed, as she read over my shoulder. “You got in, you got in, you got in!” We were standing in the middle of our school’s courtyard area, where most of the seniors hang out in between classes. Some rando in the corner gave us a weird look, but no one else seemed to even notice. College acceptance celebrations and crying fits had become the new normal for us in recent months.
“I got in! Yes!” Lexi and I hugged and danced while I mentally planned my newest status update. GOT INTO UCLA! BRUINS 4 LIFE!
"College acceptance celebrations and crying fits had become the new normal for us in recent months."
Or maybe I’d try to come up with something more original. I’d never beat Lexi’s college acceptance status update. When she’d gotten into Berkeley she posed a picture of herself surrounded by about fifty teddy bears (the Berkeley mascot is also a bear), a life-sized cardboard cutout of Olympic swimmer Daria Eldridge (she goes to Berkeley), and the caption GUESS WHO I’M GONNA BE HITTING ON AT MY NEW SCHOOL?!
Lexi totally admitted that half the reason she’d applied to Berkeley was her crush on Daria. She’d had a thing for swimmers ever since second grade, when she’d decided she wanted to be just like our swim instructor, Coach Morales. Unfortunately, Lexi had the worst backstroke the school had ever seen, and the poor woman cringed every time Lexi jumped into the pool.
“You applied to be an English major?” Lexi was still reading my acceptance email over my shoulder. She sounded surprised.
“You knew that,” I told her. Lexi is the only person in the world who knows everything about me. When we were six, she was the only one I told that I accidentally broke our classroom hamster cage and let Little Midgie escape. I’ve never kept anything from her since.
"'You applied to be an English major?' Lexi was still reading my acceptance email over my shoulder. She sounded surprised."
“Nuh-uh. I thought you were going for pre-law.
Where had she gotten that idea? “Why?” She shrugged. “Because your mom is a lawyer, I guess. And you never said what you were going to study, so I just thought… why would you study English, anyway?”
“Because I like writing.” And I did. My Tumblr blog, where I reviewed new indie rock albums and concerts Lexi and I went to see, had a few hundred followers. Not great, but not bad, either.
“Oh, okay.” Lexi perked up again. “I mean, of course you do. I just didn’t realize that’s what you were doing to do do, you know. Like forever. C’mon, let’s go celebrate! We’ll grab lattes before sixth period.” Just like that, she was off and running. As Lexi usually was. But all I could do was stand there and think of the last words she’d said: “Like forever.”
It hadn’t really occurred to me that whatever I studied in college would be my life. College had always been the long-term goal. UCLA had always been the goal. Both of my parents had gone there, and I knew it was my dad’s dream that I did, too. I liked school and getting good grades and learning new stuff, so it wasn’t difficult for me to work toward that kind of dream for thirteen years of school.
"It hadn’t really occurred to me that whatever I studied in college would be my life. College had always been the long-term goal. UCLA had always been the goal."
Only now the thirteen years were up, and I was signing up for a life path. Did I actually want to study books and writing theory for four years? And what was I even going to write after that?
I went to get the latte — mocha, skim, half-whip, decaf — with Lexi, but already a new kind of anxiety was filling a corner of my mind. And I hadn’t slept through the night since.
So there I was, not sleeping and contemplating whether my sub-par piano talent meant I should major in music when Mom showed up in my doorway.
“Raya,” she whispered. “Cousin Prisha is on the phone. She doesn’t think Daadee will last the night… she’s saying goodbye to us.”
Bile rose in my throat. No. I wasn’t ready for this.
My grandparents both lived with us when I was little, until Daada died and Daadee went back to India because she missed it. I was only twelve when she moved, and at first I was so mad at her for leaving. I even refused to speak to her for a week. I might have held out longer, but she made kachoris and refused to give me one until I caved.
I didn’t stand a chance. Kachoris are this Indian snack that’s almost like a samosa—dough that’s stuffed and fried, basically. Daadee’s kachoris are this perfect combination of sweetness and spiciness that takes over your whole mouth and makes you want to eat forever. Once, I managed to eat eight in one sitting.
“Daadee?” I said into the phone. My voice sounded weird and breathy, like I’d just run a marathon. Daadee had only gotten sick a week ago, and Mom had thought we’d make it back to India before she passed. I’d been so certain that Daadee would never die without saying goodbye to me in person that I hadn’t seen this moment coming at all. Hadn’t even imagined the possibility that I might have to say good-bye to one of the most beloved people in my life through cell phone towers.
"Daadee’s kachoris are this perfect combination of sweetness and spiciness that takes over your whole mouth and makes you want to eat forever."
“Nini baba nini…” a voice was singing on the other end of the line.
Tears immediately started falling down my cheeks. “Nini Baba Nini” is an old Indian lullaby. When I was little, Daadee used to sing it to me. I hadn’t heard it since I was eight or nine years old.
“I wish I was there with you,” I told her. “I wish I was there with you so much, Daadee.” Mom cuddled up next to me on the bed and put her arm around my shoulders, and I curled into her like I was still five years old and she and Daadee were tucking me into bed together, just like they always used to do.
“There are so many things I wish, my Raya,” Daadee answered. “So many plans I had for us. So many things I wished to show you and Anandi.”
I may not be ashamed to cuddle with my mother, but I am ashamed to say that jealousy churned in my stomach just then. Anandi is my age, my second cousin, and Daadee’s great niece. Daadee lived with Anandi’s family in India, and I knew they’d gotten close since Daadee moved in with them.Which was cool with me, usually.
“'There are so many things I wish, my Raya,' Daadee answered. 'So many plans I had for us. So many things I wished to show you and Anandi.'
I liked Anandi. We’d spent time together when my family visited India to take Daadee back over there, and we were friends on SnapChat andWhatsApp. But I sort of didn’t need my dying grandmother telling me that she wished she could spend more time with me and Anandi.
I know — jealousy only hurts the person who holds it. Whatever. It’s what I felt.
“What I wish the most,” Daadee went on, “is that I had time to show you both my ashram.”
Really? I thought. Daadee used to tell me stories about her childhood in India all the time, but she never said much about the few months she spent living in an ashram, which is like a Hindu monastery. The ashram of Rishi Kanva was in the Himalaya Mountains somewhere, high in a part of India no one in my family had visited since. Daadee had lived there before she eventually came to America, but she never talked about going back.
“Uh…I’ll see it someday,” I told Daadee. If my grandmother asked me to, I’d climb the Himalayas myself. Barefoot. In the snow. “I promise. For you.”
“You will,” she answered. “That I am sure of. When you need the ashram, it will call to you. I have left things there, Raya. Things you and Anandi should have. Things you need. I am sorry I did not tell you sooner. I realized much too late why I was leaving these items behind.…” She trailed off.
“What are you talking about?” Daadee hadn’t been in that ashram since before my mother was born. What could she possibly have left behind that would still be there? “I’m sorry I can’t tell you where to look, my Raya. My memory right now…it isn’t what it was, my baba. I have forgotten…” Daadee’s voice faded a little. “You will know where to find them—you and Anandi. When the ashram calls you, do not ignore it. If you wish to find what I have left, simply search what you know.” She began coughing then, and it was several minutes before she stopped.
"When you need the ashram, it will call to you. I have left things there, Raya. Things you and Anandi should have. Things you need. I am sorry I did not tell you sooner."
I couldn’t worry about ashrams and left-behind objects just then. It was becoming clearer that Daadee didn’t have much time left.
“I love you, Daadee,” I said. The words felt thin and painful in my throat. “Thank you for always loving me as much as you did. Thank you for everything you taught me. For everything you did for me. Good…” I stopped, unable to finish. For so many years, Daadee had been one of the most important people in my life. When my parents were first moving up in their careers, she was the one I came home to every day after school. She was the one who had listened to stories from my day, cleaned scrapes off my knees, and laid cool cloths on my forehead when I was sick. Nothing in our house had been quite the same since she went back to India.
Now she was leaving me, I couldn’t bring myself to say the words good-bye.
“I love you, my Raya. I will never forget you.” Her voice was soft, and it sounded like it was getting harder for her to talk.
My sobs got fairly hysterical at that point, and eventually Mom took the phone out of my hand.
And then, for the first time in three days, I slept.