WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon. Simon Pulse (Simon & Shuster): New York. 384 pages. $17.99 hardcover. Also available as a digital book and Audible.
Girl has goal (break the glass ceiling in the world of coding without “IIH” distractions). Boy has goal (woo the girl his parents have arranged for him to marry before they both go off to college). Boy meets girl but stages disastrous introduction (“Hello, future wife. I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”). Girl tosses Starbucks iced coffee at this “loony bin escapee.”
Sparks fly, feet dance to Dance Pe Chance, hearts ache, and even Sunny Deol would approve of the figurative dishoom-dishoom that ensues. If Sandhya Menon’s debut young adult/new adult novel When Dimple Met Rishi (WDMR) were ice cream, let’s just say it would be called “Rocky Road” with a cherry on top!
Dimple Shah wants nothing more than to attend InsomniaCon, an intensive summer program for web coders/designers before she heads off to Stanford as a freshman. She has no time to think about anything else, and certainly not about her mother’s obsession to find her the IIH (Ideal Indian Husband). Rishi Patel is the stuff that Hindi film heroes are made of: romance, respect for tradition, and charm. He wants nothing more than to meet, woo and secure the woman his parents have arranged for him to marry. This should be a piece of cake because he’ll be attending InsomniaCon, too, before heading off to school at MIT.
The problem is that Dimple has no idea what her parents, Rishi, and his parents have planned. When Dimple and Rishi are paired for the 6-week program to work on an app that will win the grand prize, the give-and-take relationship becomes a comical romp that has had readers buzzing about the book and its characters since the advance reader copies were distributed in February.
Told in short segments alternating between Dimple’s and Rishi’s points of view accomplishes two things.
If Sandhya Menon’s debut young adult/new adult novel, When Dimple Met Rishi were ice cream, let’s just say it would be called “Rocky Road” with a cherry on top!
The reader is kept in real time with both characters as the relationship progresses-digresses. This plays out effectively because the characters can be involved in entirely different but concurrent conversations or situations and not be constricted by face-to-face encounters. And it’s cinematic, the result offering readers the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the show. Menon unabashedly expresses her love for Bollywood films and is obsessed with happily-ever-afters, so there’s no doubt as to where this book is headed before the first page is read.
Love her or hate her, Dimple is a confident young woman who knows what she wants, and even when faced with alternatives, she manages to stay true to her vision but seeks some degree of compromise—providing the scales continue to tip in her favor. She’s an American girl who happens to be Indian, wears big, square glasses, isn’t interested in fashion or makeup (much to her mother’s dismay) has a quick temper, and is laser-beam focused on her future.
Rishi, who hides his true talent, is nevertheless the perfect Petruchio to Dimple’s Katherina. (characters from The Taming of the Shrew). There were countless times I thought the two were reenacting Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Yet Rishi, also born in the United States, is more traditional than Dimple and strives to please his parents as their first-born son. He believes they know best and accepts going to MIT to study computer science and engineering while deep in his heart he wants to study art and continue his comic superhero that is fresh and Indo-centric.
Although it’s true that Dimple isn’t a totally-loveable character for some of the book, it’s also true that Rishi needs to take a lesson from younger brother Ashish who is 85% free-range American and 15% Indian and needs to respect himself and what he wants more. Menon, who immigrated to the United States at the age of 15, acculturated quickly enough to be the “child of immigrant parents.” Because she fully understands the clash of values and sensibilities between generations and cultures, she translates the differences honestly and humorously.
It’s clear this novel belongs in the #OwnVoices category, a movement that has shown authors writing about the marginalized and minority groups to which they belong; this is not only needed but also wanted by readers. The buzz on this book has been significant, and while the accolades might not be from sources everyone would recognize, they are gold for YA work.
The #WeNeedDiverseBooks’ tumblr page in June included WDMR as one of the “2017 Awesomely Asian YA Books.” In May, it showed up in an article on NBCNews.com titled “Books Featuring Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders for Kids and Teens,” and a School Library Journal Blog said it was one of “13 Must-Read Titles for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.” Bustle.com’s exclusive first look by Kristian Wilson last October said it’s, “the arranged-marriage rom-com you have to read. It’s being described as ‘Eleanor and Park meets Bollywood with the humor and heart of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ so clearly it’s the book we’ve all been waiting for.” Readers on Goodreads have been duking it out with over 7,000 ratings, 92% of readers liking it, nearly 2,300 reviews, and almost 40,000 “adds” by readers (as of this writing).
Buzzfeed staff writer Farrah Penn compiled the thoughts of young adult writers about the importance of diversity in young adult literature. The result was “26 YA Authors on Diverse Representation in Publishing,” posted online on May 13. Menon was included, stating, “Diverse characters are just the norm of what we see in our everyday lives, especially teens and children. I think I read a statistic somewhere out there that said that about 50% of babies born out there were not white. We’re seeing more and more kids coming into the world who need to see stories that reflect their reality.”
Grab an iced coffee and get comfortable. A romantic, comedic look at young adults caught between their parents’ best intentions and their own developing views on adulthood while supporting the joy of diversity in publishing, WDMR promises laughs, giggles, and perhaps a literary Jodi #1.
Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in North Carolina where she is a Books for Youth reviewer for Booklist magazine/American Library Association and a member of WCPE-FM The Classical Station’s Music Education Fund committee. She is working on an assortment of fiction projects.