Rating: 2/5 stars
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. 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.
I was excited when I saw that the audiobook for this novel was on my library’s audio/ebook service, but unfortunately I was disappointed. I have a few disclaimers before I start this review:
1. I was predisposed to not like this book because I really don’t care about romance. It’s hard to get me interested in romantic subplots, and half the time I skim-read romantic scenes in books. I knew going into this that I probably wouldn’t like reading a book centered on romance, but I wanted to give it a shot. So just know that any criticism of this book is founded upon my general distaste for the genre.
2. This is a really important books, and I think Sandhya Menon is a great person. The reason why I gave this 2 stars instead of 1 is because I appreciate how key it is to support authors of color and diverse stories and viewpoints. Don’t take this review as me not liking this diverse perspective, because the reason why I’m giving it any credit at all is an appreciation for Menon writing a novel based on a culture we hardly ever see in YA.
3. I read this on audiobook, and a lot of my problems stem from that. I just want to get this out there from the outset.
With that covered, let’s get started with why I didn’t like this novel. I’ll begin with probably the most controversial opinion I have: I didn’t like Rishi. I thought he was coercive, annoying, and completely oblivious to every single thing that was going on around him. This is the thing about this book that can be most attributed to the audiobook- the narrator for Rishi’s sections reminded me in his voice, intonation, and the actual text of the book, of this guy I work with who is condescending, sexist, obnoxious, and a bit creepy. I think I still wouldn’t have loved Rishi if I read the physical book, but listening to the audiobook made me hate him. He was the most oblivious character I think I’ve ever read about, and there are countless times when he tries to pressure Dimple into doing things she doesn’t want to or shames her for doing things she wants to do but he doesn’t think she should do.
On the other hand, I actually really liked Dimple. Beyond the scene where she manipulates Rishi into doing something he’s not comfortable with (which made me mad for its inclusion), she was a relatively interesting and compelling character. I appreciated her passion for coding, her complex relationships with her parents, and her headstrong nature. However, I feel like the novel really have Dimple the short end of the stick. While we got chapters and chapters of how much Rishi’s art meant to him and how all-encompassing it was, we never got much about Dimple’s passion for coding and web development. I get that it might be considered less interesting for a YA book to go into the intricacies of computer science, but that isn’t even necessary. A few sections about how coding makes Dimple feel or why she loves it would’ve added a balance to the story.
Another one of my biggest complaints about the novel (and of Dimple’s character) was its hypocrisy in terms of feminist themes. On one hand, Dimple is a female coder who in multiple instances calls people out for misogynistic actions, and she and Rishi shut down the rude rich boys on multiple occasions (which I actually really enjoyed). On the other hand, this novel is full of unnecessary girl hate and a healthy dose of slut shaming. This can really be seen when we look at the character Isabelle, especially when we compare how she’s treated compared to Evan and Harry. When Evan and Harry are constantly rude and sexist to Dimple, Isabelle tends to stand to the side. This is harmful, of course, but doesn’t rationalize the hate Dimple has for her or how that dislike is expressed. Evan and Harry are always described and condemned for their flashiness of their wealth, how much they love to show off that they think they’re better than others because of who their parents are. This is solid characterization. Isabelle is not described the same way. When she enters a scene we always get descriptions of how much makeup she has on, how short her shorts are, how her midriff is showing, etc. Shaming a girl for wearing shorts or revealing clothing works against the message I think Menon is trying to convey in terms of girls who are smart and independent and who are passionate about a male-dominated field.
I also felt like the timing of this book was really weird. At times we would have 10 chapters detailing a single night, then we would jump forward 3 weeks. It was awkward, and made some parts drag and others feel rushed. Plot lines also seemed to fade in and out at weird times too. For example, there were periods in the book where no characters besides Dimple and Rishi were even thought of. They just ceased to exist for chapters on end. We got a scene of Dimple and Rishi planning their app, and then for the next third of the book no one even mentioned the fact that there was a programming competition going on. We focused for a really long time on Rishi’s art, then forgot about it until the last couple of chapters.
The way language and sex were handled was also weird. No one in this book cussed or used any sort of bad language, except for one instance where Rishi said “ass” and a few where Dimple thought of people as “douchebags.” Beyond that, all characters used words like “heck” and “darn” and “butt” whenever any other 18-year-old would use “hell,” “damn,” or “ass.” A few examples I can remember include saying that people were “drunk off their butts,” that Dimple “hoped to heck,” and a ridiculous amount of “what the heck”s in various contexts. This isn’t how teenagers speak, plain and simple, and it really threw me off whenever anyone would think or say things like that. I appreciate Menon trying to make this book more sex-positive than your typical YA, but it just felt a little off because Dimple and Rishi went from 0 to 100 at light speed, another example of this book feeling really unrealistic and just off.
Also, I was really not a fan of the ending.
Overall, I wasn’t impressed or disappointed by this book. It was overly cheesy and tropey and had characters who ~fell in love~ in 2 weeks, but as someone who’s highly skeptical of all fictional romance I went into this anticipating these things. Obviously a lot of people love this book, and it’s good in terms of being a diverse read, but I had a lot of problems that kept me from enjoying it as much as everyone else has.