A contemporary YA romance—heavy on the romance—with an Indian-American take on the attraction of opposites.
The story is told in alternating dual POVs, from the very different perspectives of two recent high school graduates: Rishi and Dimple. Both are highly intelligent and highly motivated, eyeing tech-oriented careers. But while Rishi is out to please his parents by denying his passion, Dimple is struggling to break free of her family’s (i.e overbearing mother’s) will and identity. They’re brought together by their parents at an intensive 6-week summer program, in the hope that they will make a marriable match. The kickoff problem being… Rishi is aware of this hope, while Dimple has been left in the dark.
What I Liked:
Dimple is a brash, strong-willed young woman with a general ambivalence toward her own physical appearance, and a determination not to be pressured into what her parents might want for her life’s direction. She’s been accepted to Stanford, is seeking a STEM career, and is doggedly set on giving herself every advantage to that end. Her pragmatism is admirable. As is her ruthlessness, up to a point.
Rishi is, at many turns, a refreshing take on a Beta male personality. Readers who are tired of the “bad-boy” trope may especially take to his prominent sappiness, intellect, and regular hints of snide humor. His mild demeanor, respect for his parents, and consideration for tradition makes him a strong opposites-attract contrast to Dimple.
I very much appreciated the caught-between-two-worlds aspect of second-generation Indian-Americans. (In truth, it was the primary reason I picked out this book.) It’s always encouraging to see more literary representation for the children of immigrants, and all the unique socio-cultural issues they so often must cope with—both within American society at large, and amongst their own families.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
-While I initially appreciated Dimple’s personal railings against wearing makeup or spending any time on her physical appearance (which she mentions ad nauseum), she often turned this personal preference into a pedestal from which to look down on any females who did or felt differently than her. She also engaged in roundly stereotyping—which I’m afraid was a disservice to both Indian-American women and those who may have been seeking a better understanding of where they are coming from.
“Looking nice, making an effort…these are the things girls value in our culture.”
“All those rules. You can’t date people who aren’t Indian. You can’t date, period, until you’re thirty.” She gave him a look and said, “Unless, of course, your parents are trying to set you up with a marriage partner. Girls can’t be interested in a career more than they’re interested in marriage. Wear makeup. Grow your hair out.”
- I really liked Dimple at first. Up to page 35 or so, I found her relatable and even endearing. But then, something in her characterization took a hard turn. It seemed almost as though her active resistance to her parent's oppressive expectations made her swing wide into caustic and sanctimonious territory. As the story and romance progress, Dimple even becomes borderline abusive at times. She punches Rishi in the ribs at one point—hard enough to make him cringe. (Had that behavior been gender-flipped, I seriously doubt Simon & Schuster would have published this book.) At another point, Dimple takes a very personal something of Rishi’s out of his bag without permission, looks through it, and then proceeds to send it to a celebrity he admires—all after he expressly requested this not occur. She does not apologize for the flagrant privacy invasion and disrespect of personal boundaries. And what’s possibly worse, the repercussions for this breach of trust are less-than-realistic.
-I was never actually convinced that Dimple was a programmer. (I realize that’s supposed to be one of the feature highlights of the book, but hear me out.) Even with the romance completely dominating, we get enough little nuances about how Rishi thinks and sees the world to convince us that he—against his own better judgement—is an artist. But Dimple... not so much. Beyond the initial pitch of her app, there’s almost no in-scene look into the process of designing, coding, testing, troubleshooting, etc. (Admittedly, I n=might not have noticed this as much if I weren't married to a code-head. But I am, so suspension of disbelief was especially difficult.) This felt like a missed opportunity to give readers a sense for what it’s like to actually reason and perform within this skillset.
-When it comes to agenda observations, 3 times is the charm (er…hex?) for this reader. One could ignore the repeated mentioning of one of the eye-rollingly cliché bully-rich-kids wearing or fiddling with a cross necklace, and perhaps even the one-dimensionally awful guy bragging about his mission trips to the 3rd-world countries he's mocking... But Rishi openly admitting to microagressing against Christianity via his word choices? That made the undercurrent impossible to mistake.
-Dimple and Rishi very quickly fall in “love” (or at least, sexually active infatuation.) But there’s nothing going on externally that would prevent them from being together. So when the inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they breakup moment arrives, it feels like forced internal complications—centering on cynical attitudinal choices rather than any true conflict.
-I went into this thinking that the touchy subject (to most Western minds) of arranged marriage was going to be explored/explained. But the arranged part ends up more of a pre-conceived suggestion, to which little or no pressure is applied after the intended couple encounter each other. All tension there fizzles out early on.
Content Notes: -There was an abundance of casual/non-committal sexual situations both depicted and suggested. The one actual sex scene was only semi-graphic and did make clear mention of condom use. While the prose is simple and serviceable enough that it often felt on level with early YA, the overall feel and content sat closer to the New Adult range.