♡ ♡ ♡ . 5 S T A R S
Dimple Shah has issues with her parents, more specifically her mother. Dimple’s a career woman with a passion for education and coding; she can’t stand putting on makeup or dressing up, and she couldn’t care less about finding an I.I.H – the Ideal Indian Husband. The problem is that her traditionally cultural mother doesn’t understand this, and if it were up to her, Dimple would be married to a suitable, nice boy by now. When Dimple gets the chance to go to San Francisco for the summer to attend a coding camp, she encounters a nasty surprise: Rishi. He was sent by his and her parents who’d promised Rishi that they’d get married after they’d met. But their first meeting doesn’t go quite as planned. Now, they have to spend a summer together – Rishi, a hopeless romantic is smitten by her, and Dimple, frustrated and annoyed, needs to achieve her coding goals and possibly get by without murdering Rishi or her parents.
When Dimple Met Rishi is the perfect example of what a Bollywood movie on paper looks like. It’s heartfelt, it’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and at times it’s so melodramatic that it’s ridiculous – but mostly in a good way. Part rom-com, part coming-of-age story, Menon’s woven a story that will capture the hearts of hopeless romantics like Rishi, as well as the more ‘practical’ ones who put their career goals before their love lives. It offers well-integrated insight into Indian culture, includes Hindi dialogue seamlessly into the narrative with food and Bollywood references that any person who’s familiar with the culture will immediately spot and grin at, while those who are unfamiliar will learn, and may want to know more. But make no mistake, When Dimple Met Rishi is not about Indian culture – that’s just there.
Which is one of the things that makes the book so special, in my mind. So often, South Asian cultures are reduced to stereotypes – even, to some extent, by authors from the same background. Which is not me saying that their experiences are less. They’re not, but just that it can be incredibly alienating for readers to find the same type of narratives everywhere they turn. This particular book doesn’t do that; it’s about a young girl, living her life, doing what she loves, having her issues, falling in love. These stories far outweigh the negative ones, and we rarely get to see them in books. There is infinite value in books like these because they serve to diversify, not other.
There is also infinite value in Soft Boys – I’ve said this time and time again, but I’m sick and tired of the bad boy trope. I need me some soft boys in YA lit – guys who are just nice, and do nice things, and think nice thoughts, who respect other people and thus get respect back. Rishi Patel is the ultimate soft boy, and I love him. He’s such a kind, thoughtful person who does little things to make people happy; there are facets to his personality that everyone can relate to. His respect and love for his parents was something that immediately clicked with me, while his struggle with needing to be the perfect son and wanting a career in something that might not make him bags of money is something that I feel a lot of South Asian kids would relate to. Soft, but not without his own flaws and complexities, and I really loved how Menon executed his character.
On the flip side, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Dimple. I admired her initially – gutsy, outspoken, strong-willed and feisty, but as time wore on, her initial charm wore off – particularly when it comes to her behavior around Rishi. There is a scene near the beginning of their meeting where she forces him to drink alcohol at a party, after he repeatedly refuses. She pushes him into situations that are uncomfortable for him more than a few times; she crosses the line more than a few times, and even though I didn’t mind her individually, her behavior was frustrating and frankly, a little shocking. Some may say that this ‘flaw’ is what makes Dimple’s character complex, but I would disagree. Not to give anything away, but these things are never challenged. They just are, and Rishi goes along with them. If the genders were flipped, perhaps more people would notice that it is not okay for someone to constantly push and shove someone else into literal submission.
When you don’t like the main character, other things start to pop up. For one, the insta-love is an issue. I can’t say much about that at risk of spoilers, but falling so madly and deeply in love within a few weeks? Not buying it. On top of that, the romance was a little too cheesy for my taste, but some people enjoy the thrill of first-love cheese, so that’s entirely subjective. I also felt that the ending was rushed, and way too melodramatic – the ending was one I’ve seen in one too many Bollywood movies, and I felt that Menon could’ve done something different, something more interesting.
But ultimately, despite all the flaws, When Dimple Met Rishi is a good addition to your summer reading list; it is fun, it’s flirty, you’ll devour it because it’s addictive. And by the turn of the last page, you’ll definitely want more – come to me for some Bollywood recs; you’ll need them!