Sunday, August 6, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

Sandhya Menon
A month ago, I became an aunt to an adorable and winsome boy named Rishi.  Around the same time, people started telling me about the book When Dimple Met Rishi, and I thought I would read the book and then maybe give it to my sister to read and imagine a fun future for her child.

When Dimple Met Rishi is about two Indian-American kids who go to an app development summer camp the summer between high school and college.  Rishi and Dimple's parents are friends and want their children to meet and get married.  Rishi is totally on-board with this, and he goes to Insomnia-con just to meet Dimple and propose (with his grandmother's ring, no less).  Dimple has no idea; she's at Insomnia-con to develop an app to help people deal with diabetes.  They meet, Rishi basically proposes, and Dimple freaks out.  But then they get to know each other, and Dimple realizes that he's not all bad.

In general, I veer away from young adult romance because I find it too angsty and dramatic.  I would never want to return to the period of my life when I was an overly-dramatic teenager, and it is hard for me to read books centered on characters at that age without rolling my eyes multiple times.

But I also grew up Indian-American, and I love that this book exists.  There's an Indian girl on the cover, there are Hindi words in the text, there are Indian narrators on the audiobook (who pronounce all the names and words correctly!!!).  All of these things are so great.  It is like the YA romance version of Hasan Minhaj's Netflix special.  I also appreciate that in this book, it's Dimple who is ambitious and driven and totally into being a techie, with big dreams on how to make it happen.  And that Rishi loves art but feels like he needs to go to engineering school to make his parents happy.

Much about this book rings true, as someone who grew up here to Indian parents.  One of my favorite parts, a tiny detail, was when Rishi explained to Dimple's friend that he speaks Hindi, but that he speaks a version of Hindi that is from Mumbai, where locals speak Marathi.  And his parents went to Mumbai from elsewhere, as did many other people, and so the Hindi they speak is not often understood outside of Mumbai.  This is so 100% true.  My parents grew up in Bangalore, which is a Kannada-speaking city.  But their families are both originally from Andhra, which is Telugu-speaking.  But so many people from Andhra go to Bangalore that the version of Telugu they all speak is completely different than the Telugu spoken in Andhra.  It's a small detail, but many Indian people live through it, and I loved that it somehow made its way into this book.

I also appreciate that the author, Sandhya Menon, made cultural pride and knowledge such a positive thing in this book.  Rishi in particular is very well-versed in his heritage and has no embarrassment at all about fully embracing it.  I think that is a really great lesson.

But there were also many things in this book that bothered me.  Putting aside my general annoyance with young adult romance (and this book had many of those same tropes and bothers), there were things that just were too much for me.  Granted, I am 100% sure that I would notice these and judge these more as an Indian than probably other people would.  But they still grated.

For example, Rishi.  He's this really perfect guy.  He's super-rich and goes to private school with other rich kids, but somehow he's not spoiled or bratty or super-entitled, even though all the other rich kids in this book totally are.  This is never explained.  Also, he is really smart and funny and kind.  And he is an AMAZING artist who tells his dad that his "brain just doesn't work the same way" as an engineer's brain does.  But... he somehow managed to get accepted to MIT, anyway, and is going there to major in computer engineering.  Because THAT's an easy thing to just swing.  Also, as a 17-year-old, he just shows up somewhere with his grandmother's engagement ring to propose marriage to a complete stranger and this strains credulity to me.

Also, Rishi had this whole encounter with this other Indian guy, Hari, that super-annoyed me.  Hari was a jerk in the book, but there was one point when Rishi asked him where his parents were from (meaning, where in India) and Hari very pointedly said that his parents were born in the US.  And then Rishi somehow "won" this competition by talking about how he was so happy and proud to go back to his family's home in India and really connect with his culture and background.  This seemed to imply that somehow Hari was less Indian or less whatever than Rishi.  This really bothered me because, personally, I despise when people ask me where I am from and then act as though my answer ("Chicago") is incorrect, as though they assume I am from somewhere else just because I am Indian.  I realize that this question is different when asked by one Indian to another, but I completely understood Hari's anger in the situation, and I found Rishi's "I love my heritage and go to India all the time" holier-than-thou attitude pretty grating in that instance.

And then there's Dimple's relationship with her parents.  Apparently, Dimple's mom wants her to wear Indian clothes all the time, even at school.  (And Dimple does this, as there are multiple comments on her kurtas and odnis).  And her mom wants her to wear a bunch of make-up and get married stat.  Whereas Dimple wants to wear her glasses, no make-up, and focus on school.  This part just never really rang true to me because it seemed like the author really wanted to set up this weird misunderstanding/antagonistic relationship between Dimple and her mom, but it was hard to believe in (as an adult, anyway) because her mom didn't come off that way at all, really, when you encountered her in the story.  Maybe that's the way an adult would read the story, though, whereas a teenager would read it quite differently than I do :-)

The other thing about this book that just was off to me was the relationship between Rishi's brother, Ashish, and Dimple's friend, Celia.  It felt like a waste of time and space to me, and I don't really think it needed to be included at all.  Especially as I felt like the book dragged a bit at times with the plotting, and getting rid of that would have made it a bit tighter.

I think what frustrated me most was that it didn't quite rise as high above the Indian stereotypes as I would have liked.  You still have two really good kids who do not rebel much at all against their parents.  They both somehow get into Stanford and MIT (because God forbid they go to a place like UC-Berkeley or something).  They watch Bollywood movies and, conveniently, perform in a talent show with a Bollywood dance number.  And their parents want to arrange marriage for them at 18.  Honestly, I'm surprised there wasn't a mention that Rishi had won the Scripps spelling bee as a child.

But!  This book exists, and it is so proudly Indian-American, and it owns that culture, and I love that.  I'm so glad that Dimple was going after her coding dreams and that Rishi had a great love for art,  but I wish that it could have gone a bit further.

9 comments:

  1. I love this review! It's definitely important to talk about both flaws and strengths in a book like this because many people will take it as the gospel truth about a group. Hopefully this story inspires more authors, not just YA, to write more Indian-American novels from many points of view.

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    1. Yes, and hopefully it will inspire many readers of all backgrounds to read books about people from different backgrounds than them! And make them realize that we are not that different :-) But that the differences are ok, not threatening.

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  2. Your review of this book rocks! I can totally understand what you mean about pretty much everything you talked about. I'm Chicana, so when I read Cisneros' book, The House on Mango Street, it was like I had found home. I found a book that had Spanish in it and a book that talked about a culture that was mine and it was awesome. I loved it. So, I can totally dig how much you loved this book owning its culture :) And I know what you mean about the differences in language, because I have the same thing. I speak Spanish, but its different from the Spanish that I learned in school and the Spanish that people in Miami speak. Oh, and I feel the same when people ask where I am from. I always say Homestead, but its not enough. They expect me to name a country, because apparently I can't be from Homestead, FL since that is in America and I don't look American enough to them. Its crazy! Anyhow, I just wanted to say how much I loved your post and related to it. Thanks so much for writing it :) And, I'm happy you enjoyed the book - its on my TBR list.

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    1. Oh, I love that you have felt the same way! And thanks for the information about the different kinds of Spanish, good to know it happens world-wide for all languages!

      Please let me know what you think of this book when you read it!

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  3. You and Jenny both reviewed this book today, and I'd never heard of it before. Why is the girl named (or just called) after indentations on the face? This is oddly off-putting to me.

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    1. Dimple is the first name of a pretty famous Bollywood actress (who... named her kids Twinkle and Rinkle and had a sister named Simple, which is pretty cruel). The name is not super-common, but it is not as rare as you would think.

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  4. It's so great that YA books are being published that aren't just white kids as the main characters and that the cultural details in the book are correct. It is too bad though, that it still stereotypical, which I thought as soon as I heard they went to camp to create apps.

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    1. Hahahaha, very good point, Helen. Actually, now that you mention it, the whole app development thing seems to have just been a way to get them in the same place - it is barely mentioned as an actual app development thing most of the time.

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  5. I do want to try it since everyone loves it. But I liked hearing it from your POV. Everyone else does not really get it

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