Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3
Hi! I hope you’re having a great day today! Before I get into the review, I’m going to start off by saying that this isn’t going to be like one of my normal book reviews. Instead of my regular what I liked/didn’t like sections, I wrote a piece on why it’s important to see yourself in the books you read. I was initially planning to make a separate post about it, but this book helped my ideas about the topic come together in so many ways that it felt fitting to talk about them at the same time. Without further ado, let’s get started!
“Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. [read more=”Read more” less=”Read less”] Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?.
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.”Sandhya Menon’s Website
I was pretty skeptical, but also intrigued, when I first read the plot summary. My parents had an arranged marriage, but that was back in India and seemed like a thing of the past to me. I couldn’t imagine what that would look like in modern day America. I have to say though, although I can’t relate to my parents trying to arrange my marriage, Sandhya Menon made the characters (especially Dimple, Rishi, and Rishi’s brother) funny, relatable, and easy to grow attached to. The writing was beautiful, and the story was wonderfully paced and equal parts exciting, aggravating, heartbreaking, and romantic. If you’re looking for an adorable and completely unique YA romantic comedy that teaches you a thing or two about Indian culture, this is definitely the book for you.
Why it’s important to see yourself in the books you read
This book was really hard for me to get through. Not because it was bad (at ALL), but because it was so relatable and unlike anything I had ever read before that I had to consistently pause to keep my emotions in check. It’s really strange reading about your own culture when you haven’t done it before. Even saying that feels unbelievable. I’ve read hundreds of young adult novels, and yet somehow not a single one before this one has featured an Indian-American protagonist. This was also the first YA novel I’ve read by an Indian-American author.
What does someone feel when they don’t see someone they look like in the books they read? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it felt like my experiences weren’t worth sharing, that it wasn’t possible for my life to be as full of adventure and romance and LIFE as my peers’.
I’d never read a book about a South Asian girl my age dealing with the same issues as the typical American teenage girl–stories about dysfunctional friendships and families, romances, academic troubles. But growing up in the same environment, I’ve been facing the same struggles. I just felt invalid or wrong for facing them because I thought I wasn’t meant to. It was wrong for me to have a crush on someone because, according to my family, I was too young and it wasn’t appropriate (until I was twenty five, apparently). And it always felt wrong, because it’s not like I saw girls like me having relationships and liking boys in the books I read.
Reading this book, it made me feel like it was okay. And it is. It’s not fun to constantly be judged by different standards everywhere you go, but it’s part of life when you’re part of a family that’s immigrated to a different country. People don’t say it enough, but it’s really tough when your parents grew up in a different environment and culture than you. It’s more than the fact that they grew up in a different time; it’s that they grew up in an altogether different society. There have been so many times in my life–whether it be regarding academic or personal aspirations, friendships, relationships, etc.–when something I’ve wanted or talked about has received praise from my friends and/or teachers, and faced negative reception from my parents because it was something that wouldn’t have been a great thing in the society they grew up in (e.g. majoring in the humanities, thinking about having romantic relationships in late high school/college). This made it really confusing for me to distinguish between right and wrong, and it got easier when I went away to college and could figure out what my own beliefs were and abide by them without being constantly judged under the standards of a society that I myself have not grown up in. This isn’t to say that I think my beliefs are more correct than my parents’. Our beliefs and opinions of the world are culminations of our experiences, and what my parents experienced in India growing up is completely different from what I have experienced growing up in America. How could it not be?
That’s the American part of me. But there’s also the Indian part. And that matters too. I’m not just an American, I’m an Indian-American. And I’ve talked about how it’s hard to see eye to eye with my parents sometimes because of my American side, but it’s more difficult for me to let the Indian side of me shine through when I’m with my American friends. Kids can be so much more mean and judgmental than parents. I remember being in fourth grade, enjoying a bus ride home while listening to a compilation of Hindi music my dad had compiled for me on an old mp3 player. I remember a girl who lived in my neighborhood yanking my headphones out of my ear, putting them in hers, and sneering at me, “what is this music you’re listening to, anyway?” I hadn’t listened to American music before that incident, but it incited me to get some Kidz Bop CDs from the library and start loving Taylor Swift. After a while, when I had no friends to talk about Hindi music with, I stopped listening to it altogether. I tried to be as American as possible at school.
It’s been over eight years since then, and now, being away from home has made me so much more comfortable in being an Indian-American. A lot of that is because of the diverse community I have around me in college; people are excited about me sharing my culture with them, and I don’t feel awkward when I wear traditional clothes to Indian events on campus (something I really admired about Dimple, by the way; I’m not brave enough to wear Indian clothes on a daily basis like she was).
It’s still really hard to talk to my friends about some of my beliefs, and in a bigger sense, my family’s beliefs. According to many of my friends’ values, some of my cultural values are “so last century” and “outdated.” It’s hard to share my perspective and talk about my struggles with culture clash with them and be honest, while also simultaneously trying to not make them think of the culture I come from as inferior or incorrect. And that is one of the biggest reasons why I think it’s so important, along with giving the members of the community something that they can see themselves in, that books portray members of all different cultures. It normalizes the idea of values and ideas from those cultures and gives those who don’t belong to them a way to understand them in a way that can’t easily be explained in a conversation.
Not to say that a single book can capture all of the cultural values of a community, or the people who belong to it. Everyone’s different. Not all Indian-American families hold the same ideals. My parents are basically the opposite from Dimple’s in one major regard – instead of the whole “you need to find a husband” and backhanded arranged marriage plot as soon as she graduates high school, my parents are more “no thinking about boys until you get you have a job and you’re all settled,” two completely different ends of the dating spectrum. However, despite these key differences, it was so nice to read about a character who I knew looked like me. A girl who came from a similar cultural background as me, and was trying to find her way in the world–in America–like I am.
Thank you so much for reading; this is probably the most personal and meaningful piece I’ve written on this blog so far, and it means a lot to me that you took the time to read it. Let me know down below if you’ve read When Dimple Met Rishi, and/or what you think about both the book and why it’s important to see yourself in the books you read! I’d love to hear your thoughts and discuss.
Until next week ~