Pub. date: May 30th, 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Thanks so much to Simon Pulse and Sandhya Menon for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 18-year old Dimple Shah is more than ready to start university, to catch a break from her mother talking ad nauseum about the importance of finding an “Ideal Indian Husband.” So it’s almost a miracle that her parents are letting her attend a summer program for web developers. Rishi Patel is your Bollywood romantic, and eager as all hell to find his future wife, preferably set up by his parents. The Shahs and the Patels want to use this summer program that their kids are attending to nudge them towards each other, and Rishi is more than happy to be on board with this arrangement. The only problem- Dimple has no idea that all this is happening. So what happens when the two eventually meet?
So, in case it wasn’t clear, this book is a Bollywood romcom in a nutshell. I am not kidding. I grew up watching this story. Several movies of this story. This book is the YA version- but sex positive, not misogynistic, no gaslighting, and none of that patriarchal bullshit. I will be totally honest- I know how important this story was going to be for desi kids outside of the subcontinent- they never get to see themselves or their culture represented positively, front and center. But I was also worried- the synopsis screamed Bollywood to me, and Bollywood is a buttload of misogynist garbage fire even on its good days. That apprehension was the reason it took me so long to actually pick up the book (a book I was so excited about that Sandhya was kind enough to send to me). I read it in one setting. Long story short, it’s fucking amazing. It’s funny, heartfelt, wonderful characters, and I SHIP THEM. I SHIP THESE DORKS. Dishi, Rimple, whatever the fuck the kids are gonna name them. I’m rooting for these kids to have a good time.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s start with how desi this book is. Ultimate desi. The mum who is constantly haranguing Dimple to dress like a girl, and put on that damn kajal (I spent the first 17 years of my life not touching kajal on regular days and then college happened and I realized what a lifesaver it actually is to make me look less hungover), the dad who is the voice of reason when Dimple and her mum get into it, all the fussing in the name of love that can be suffocating but you miss when you’re away from home for a bit, the nosy aunty who simultaneously made me go “ARGH AUNTY WHY” and “Holy shit yes good lord these aunties that’s exactly how they are!”, and the desi family dynamics. They rang true and were hilarious and heartwarming all at the same time.
And then there’s Rishi. Rishi (who will be a young Rishi Kapoor in my head, fight me) is a diehard, Bollywood romantic. He’s 17 and ready to find his life partner. He arrives at SFSU with every intention of getting to know Dimple so that they can fall in love and get married and live happily ever after and endgame. This is a boy who is sure of himself, who s grounded in his identity and his culture, and has no qualms about it. None of these traits are lost through the story, at the same time it was wonderful to watch his character grow and his ideas about his life be moulded based on the events in the story. He instantly falls for Dimple, and she challenges him every step of the way. All of the swoons.
Another thing I really appreciated about the book- while the romance is the main plotline, that characters aren’t presented only in that one dimension. Dimple isn’t just all ambition and competitiveness, she’s a person with multiple facets, thoughts, ideas, values, notions. Rishi isn’t just a die-hard romantic- he has passions, aspirations, and let’s be honest, they’re both so dorky in their own ways it is only natural they find a safe space in each other’s company. The book takes the time and several different scenes to explore these two as individuals and together- it’s the mark of a very very good writer.
Here’s a place where the book scores again- sex positivity! Some teens may engage in sexual behavior (if they so choose)- surprise, surprise. Also, spoiler alert, but some brown teens may engage in sexual behavior (there seems to be this assumption that sex is a big no no for desi kids because strict parents or whatever, and again, if they so choose). So, extra points to Menon for including conversations about sex, consent-seeking, and sex positivity!
Needless to say, I’m thrilled this book exists. I’m thrilled desi teens will get to read it, to see themselves on the page, to laugh out loud at the melodramatic and occasionally clichéd desi romance moments (including a very Bollywood climax) that they will appreciate and nod at because familiarity. If you enjoy contemporary romcoms, I highly recommend you pick this one up, it’s a goddamn delight.
P. S. I read this in April so I can’t count it, but this book qualifies for #AsianLitBingo, if you’re looking for a title for the South Asian MC/Contemporary Asian MC/ Romance with POC squares.