Review: WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI

First of all let me say this: I’ve been waiting  with bated breath for WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI by Sandhya Menon to come out ever since I heard about it. I mean, a Bollywood style YA? What’s not to love? So when I recently got my hands on an ARC I was thrilled. Unfortunately it took me a little while to start reading because dear hubs, also an avid Bollywood fan, got his grubby fingers on it before I did and so I had to wait patiently. By the time he was done and I started, we were on our way to Santa Monica to attend YALLWEST. You can read all about that experience here.

I was still reading it on the plane and when we landed at LAX we decided to grab some lunch. Afterwards I got lost on my way back from the restrooms as one tends to do (okay maybe not most people, but I am directionally challenged). Anyway, while I was wandering around the terminal trying to locate dear hubs, who do I spy but Sandhya Menon, the author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI. Of course, since I’d never met her before in my life, I couldn’t be 100% sure. But like Rishi, I believe in kismet and also, I knew she in the lineup for YALLWEST and it wasn’t that far-fetched that she would also fly into LAX. So unlike a normal person I did not quietly continue the search for my husband, who by this time was no doubt panicking about his lost wife. No, I actually walked up to her, confirmed she was indeed Sandhya Menon and not some other unsuspecting passenger and proceeded to give her an exuberant hug. I can’t imagine what she must have thought about being accosted by a complete stranger in the airport (okay, maybe I can. She will probably always travel incognito from now on).

Of course she was perfectly lovely and gracious. She didn’t even run away the next day when we went up  to her after a panel at YALLWEST. My husband was not too impressed with my stalkerish behavior but after he met her and we chatted for a few minutes, he was convinced that things were fine.

The sad thing is, in all the excitement, I forgot to take a picture with her and worst of all, I DID NOT GET AN AUTOGRAPH!! I had the book in my purse the entire time.

Anyhow, I finished the book and let me tell you it was glorious!

I cannot say this enough: it was beyond amazing to read about a character who could have been one of my daughters. They are South Asian, children of immigrants, a leg in each world and they hardly ever get to see themselves reflected in YA. My older daughter, now 22, was an avid reader all through elementary and high school. There were no books with characters who looked like her or came from a similar background. So as I was reading, there were many moments of feeling connected and rejoicing.

What I loved most about this book was that it showcased two very different kinds of South Asian teens. Dimple is fiercely independent, has her own idea of what she wants her life to be and fights her parents, while Rishi is more traditional and feels responsible for his parents’ happiness. With so few books out there featuring POC it becomes more important to convey to readers that no culture is a monolith. South Asians are not all alike, any more than people of any other ethnicity.

And then there were the scenes with her parents and other relatives. Sandhya’s sense of humor is delightful. I could hear the voices in my head as clearly as if I were watching a Bollywood movie or drama. It was fun and light, while at the same time tackling the deeper issue of two very smart and driven young people finding their place in the world.

I can’t wait for this book to come out soon and watch people rave about it.

My Stories… Not My People

The other day I was thinking back to the stories I wrote as a child. I was about 7 years old and had moved from Germany to Bangladesh around that time. I had switched from reading my favorite Enid Blyton books in German to reading them in English. Although learning to speak and read in English changed many things for me, what didn’t change were the characters in those books. They were all still white. Every single one of them. I remember being fascinated with everything they did, the interesting food they ate, their traditions and lifestyles. I loved reading about their (mis)adventures and the trouble they got into. As a voracious reader I always enjoyed a wide variety of books, but still…all the characters were white. So it was not surprising that when I wrote my first stories the characters in all of them were also white. They all had names like Nancy or Tom, even though in real life I was surrounded by people with names like Hassan or Seema. It never occurred to me that my characters could be something other than white. They didn’t eat sumptuous Bengali sweets or biryani. They ate fine chocolates and fish and chips. They didn’t wear kurtas or shalwar-kameez. They wore jeans and t-shirts. None of these things by themselves constitute anything untoward at all, but when I look at children’s fiction today and what is available in terms of diverse characters, it saddens me to think that there are still thousands of children around the world who may never see themselves reflected in the stories they love to read. Or even worse, they may never think it possible that they could be super heroes who fight evil. Or that they may be the ones to save the world. It’s depressing. And it’s time for change.