The Shaadi Set-Up, Lillie Vale’s debut adult novel, is overflowing with internal angst, situational humor, and the oft-dreamed-of second chance at first love. It also examines the struggles mid-twenty-somethings encounter when finding their grown-up groove and combining business and romantic relationships. The result is positively entertaining friction-fiction.
Rita Chitness is a furniture repairer in Goldsboro, NC, who re-purposes unloved pieces into works of art that belie their origins. She’s also an interior designer who hasn’t officially gotten her business off the ground despite influential neighbors clamoring for her pieces and one who offers a big job. Romantically, Rita’s in a high-maintenance, semi-new relationship with Neil Dewan, which is kept secret from their parents because Neil’s father was once the love of Rita’s mother’s life.
Neil’s ready to make it official, and while he thinks marriage would solve his problem of a nagging mother, Rita thinks she has a better scheme: both of them subscribe to MyShaadi.com, create targeted profiles, get matched officially. That would be the perfect way to break it to her parents that she’s dating, of all the people in the world, Amar Dewan’s son.
Visiting her parents’ home in Chapel Hill, NC, Rita sees realtor signs for Milan Rao, her ex-boyfriend who had the gall to dump her via voice mail six years ago. When the doorbell rings, it’s Milan, himself. Because of a sneaky confab between parents, Milan ends up asking Rita to help stage a house he’s having a major problem selling. Eventually, reluctantly, Rita gives in. This is where the old fluttery feelings really start to return, but Rita does her best to stomp them to the ground.
Meanwhile, MyShaadi.com fails. Neil gets plenty of matches, but not with Rita. Rita is matched with… Milan.
With just the right amount of irritation, Rita gets into her zone and works her magic staging the house from hell. Milan is overjoyed when it sells immediately, but Rita feels she has merely fulfilled the agreement. When Milan brings back memories of time spent at Bluebill Cottage on Rosalie Island, things get extra complicated. He admits he bought the seaside house, intending to return it to its former grandeur in order to flip it. He, again, wants Rita to work her magic on the cottage so that it will sell in a heartbeat.
But the heartbeat and attraction belong to Rita and Milan, and the slow burn of the former couple, now adults invested in building careers, may mean starting over again. Maybe.
The Shaadi Set-Up hums with a sexy vibe and tons of heart thanks to great characters. Rita is adorably prickly and determined. Her best friend Rajvee, who acts as Rita’s sounding board, is a free spirit that should have had a larger role in the story. Milan is as lovable as a puppy, and Neil will make eyes roll. Even the neighbors who covet Rita’s projects are delightful, especially the one who surprises her with a second-chance story of her own.
The overly-concerned-about-everyone’s-marital-status first-generation parents are refreshing because they are thoroughly on board with and supportive of their children’s career choices that go against stereotypes. Even Rita’s grandmother is hipper than expected. In an interview by the publisher, Vale stated that she “… always yearned for a book where an Indian American character gets to just be, where their ethnicity isn’t the most interesting thing about them.” She unquestionably succeeded with this book.
As for love, Rita’s approach to it was damaged by her mother’s sad story and by Milan, so she believes that when things break, they can’t be fixed. The project of house flipping together is a clever metaphor for Rita and Milan taking a broken relationship and attempting to turn it into a comfortable one.
The concept of the second generation getting a second chance at first love is just too irresistible to pass up. If you love Lily Menon or Sonali Dev, you don’t need to re-purpose your reading list to add this gem because it will fit perfectly.
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Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in both Carolinas where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents and a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association. She also is a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee, SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and NCWN (North Carolina Writers’ Network).