Layla in the Sky With Diamonds by Manbeena Bhullar Sandhu

Manbeena Bhullar Sandhu holds a degree in substance abuse and addictions, and a master’s degree in English literature. She is an addictions counsellor and currently lives and works in Toronto. This is her first book.

Layla in the Sky With Diamonds (2017, Archway Publishing) is a book containing several themes, but primarily the late 1960’s counterculture, drug addictions and the search for spirituality that followed the death of the Hippies. It is the story of Layla, an entitled New York princess, who with her best friend Belinda go to San Francisco to escape the New York scene and see if there is anything to be found in the growing Haight Ashbury Hippie movement. There, they fall in love with the idea of “turn on, tune in, drop out” espoused by Timothy Leary. From there, a trip to Europe and eventually India lands them in Goa, where many Hippies have migrated to and live in a commune there, getting high and hanging out.

 “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life anywhere in this world but here, in Goa. Goa is my home, the heaven on earth I had been searching for all this time,” Belinda passionately stated. “Yes! Undoubtedly so. I didn’t even know that this little world actually existed. We searched everywhere—New York, San Francisco, and all over Europe. Goa is what I have been looking for all my life. My only regret is that I didn’t find this place earlier,” mumbled Layla, scrunching her face.

“There is timing for everything in life, Layla. You couldn’t have come here before the time was ripe for you to be in Goa. You had to go through all your experiences in New York, San Francisco, and Europe in order to be able to appreciate what Goa has to offer. Maybe you wouldn’t have liked Goa had you come here five years back,” explained André patiently, his words dripping with wisdom.

There are unscrupulous characters too, who supply the drugs these freedom seekers eventually get addicted to, which frightens Layla. Especially as her friend Belinda gets more and more involved with substance abuse. Layla is taken away from this lifestyle (to a certain degree) by Gary, a wealthy young Sikh man who falls in love with her. However, Layla’s past soon catches up with her and her idyllic lifestyle drastically changes.

At first, I wasn’t sure where this book was headed, starting as it does in the 1980’s. I thought it was going to be more about the San Francisco Hippie movement. Then, as I stuck to the story, it takes on a flashback scenario and we find ourselves with Layla and Belinda as teens in NYC in the 1960’s. Ms Sandhu appears to be targeting the young adult audience with this book, for there is no profanity and only the hinting of sex. The voice is that of someone writing to a pre-teen/young teen, explaining to them the dangers of addiction as well as the need for some type of guidance in one’s life. I would image she does well as an addictions counsellor. This book is also striking for describing the customs of the Punjabi people, for most of the book is set in that region of India. Admittedly, Layla is a book that could have used some enhanced editing and possibly a more mature voice for the telling of Layla’s story and its message. Nonetheless, Layla is a notable first effort.

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