…Ritu auntie only waved her off, as if she thought Dimple were being demure—who on earth went to college with anything but the aspiration of landing a marriageable partner? Dimple thought of Insomnia Con., of Jenny Lindt, of SFSU, of Stanford. Of all the things she’d jeopardize if she called Ritu auntie a backward, anti-feminist blight on democratic society…
Dimple just needs to get out of the house, with her mother constantly foisting eyeliner and dreams of the IIH (Ideal Indian Husband) on her, to InsomniaCon., a six week coding conference where the winning final project gets to work with Dimple’s idol, Jenny Lindt, to develop and market an app. Rishi is also going to Insomnia Con…to meet Dimple, the girl their parents have arranged to be his wife (a fact about which Dimple is completely unaware). As the novel comes to a head, Dimple has to choose between following her passion for coding and web development and a growing passion for Rishi….or does she?
Representation matters and Sandhya Menon knocks it out of the park with When Dimple Met Rishi. While I’m by no stretch of the imagination a connoisseur of YA books, I can’t easily name any others with two Indian-American characters who feature prominently. (There probably are some but I think we can agree not enough given their statistical representation in the population.) I loved that Dimple defies old stereotypes of the demure Indian girl. Dimple wants nothing to do with boys, clothes, or makeup. She lives, eats, and breathes web coding and app development and damned if anything or anyone is going to stand in her way. I love that Dimple’s passion is technology and coding and love that Menon created an idol/mentor for her in Jenny Lindt (a fictional, successful app developer). Silicon Valley does horribly by women—more needs to be written (fiction and non-fiction) about women kicking ass and taking names in this field.
Menon goes further and generally defies stereotypes of the conservative Indian community, without minimizing or losing the power of the family. Dimple is a feminist and damn proud of it. Dimple isn’t strident but she also isn’t going to take your bullshit. Even Rishi—who wants nothing more than to marry Dimple and live the happy life he has seen in his parents is a feminist and supports Dimple without constraining her. I wanted to stand on my couch and cheer. Yes. More female and male feminist role models in YA books. (Or in books period). I. Am. Here. For. It.
Dimple + Rishi
I loved this book for its portrayal of a teenager being comfortable enough in who she is and what she loves to refuse to play the stupid games. Makeup is fine if you’re Celia, her roommate, but it’s not Dimple’s thing and that’s totally ok. And not only is that ok, but you can have friends and even a boyfriend who loves that about you and still finds you beautiful. You don’t have to change to be happy or to get the guy—in fact, changing those things will typically only break your heart (a la Dimple’s roommate, Celia). We need more of this message in YA books, please.
Dimple’s character development and choices over the course of the book feel real. She thought she couldn’t have a relationship—she had to pick and choose. As a result she does some stupid things—she isn’t perfect. We’re all rooting for her, largely because she’s relatable (even if you aren’t, even a little bit, a techie).
In may ways it is Rishi, the male protagonist, who became the stereotypical “girl” character of the book—having to give up things he loves and his dreams in order to please others. He’s made himself (mostly) comfortable with these choices, even coming to accept them as his own. While I am not Indian-American, I was briefly married to one who voiced things very similar to what Rishi said here. When he went to college he would have loved to study other subjects, but had to study business because as the first-born son of Indian immigrants, he was expected to support the family and could not waste time on things like art or history. This rang true in my limited experience and was a flip of the usual scenario.
The pace of the relationship—from Dimple meeting/hating Rishi to head-over-heels in three weeks felt a little silly and far-fetched….and then I remembered (cringingly) the pace of high school relationships. The timing is probably about right. My absolute favorite chapter was Dimple and Rishi’s first date at a book café where you eat while browsing and reading. That chapter could serve as a primer for the date planner on how to plan an excellent date, even for an adult. (Though in retrospect, this might not be the best first date for me unless you want to be talking to the top of my head while I read all night.)
Speaking of the relationship, this book does have a fair amount of sex for a YA book. The intended audience skews towards older teenagers though the main “limit” here wouldn’t be a hard age-line (in my opinion) but rather whether or not the teen reader understands sex and is beginning to understand when one should and shouldn’t have it. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this about a YA book (or any book) but—I appreciated the way Menon used sex in this book. There are characters who love each other, who think the decision through, and have sex because it is the right choice for them. Menon goes into enough detail in this scene for you to know what’s happening and that it’s a good thing for these two characters. It does get a tad steamy but I didn’t feel like it pushed over into being gratuitous, even for a YA audience. This scene is contrasted with another character who is having sex with someone she’s trying to impress and who doesn’t love her. By having both, Menon not only sets up a contrast and highlights the goodness and badness of these choices but also provides opportunity for good dialogue about these choices and when one knows sex is or isn’t right. I thought Menon handled these scenes deftly and delicately—they’re some of the best sex scenes I’ve read in a YA book.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a sizeable book, slightly on the longer end for both YA and a general contemporary fiction work. With that said, toward the end I felt like the narrative rushed. I appreciate that the overall length of the book was right—much longer and it would have needed some editing. At the same time, Insomnia Con is supposed to be a six-week conference and the entire last three weeks essentially pass in one sentence. I’m not sure ultimately that this was a bad thing or should be changed—I don’t know what before this point Menon should or could have cut to make room for the last three weeks in the narrative—so maybe this choice was fine. It was momentarily jarring in the sense that I re-read the sentence to make sure three weeks had just passed, shrugged, and moved on to find out what happened to Dimple and Rishi.
While I thought the book was incredibly well done, it is still a YA book. If YA isn’t your thing, this likely isn’t going to be the book for you. It has the shine of a YA book where things are a little too glossy and characters compare their feelings to bubbles at least once. If you love, or even just like, YA then this book is a recent stand out and definitely worth your time.
Published May 30, 2017 by Simon & Schuster (@simonandschuster)
Author: Sandhya Menon (@sandhyamenonbooks)
Date read: July 5, 2017
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars