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.
Description taken from Goodreads.
The bottom line is that When Dimple Met Rishi‘s hype is deserved, and I’m excited to see what else Sandhya Menon comes out with in YA. This is the kind of book we need for We Need Diverse Books to have real impact and not just good intentions. All things considered, I’d say it was the perfect mix of YA and culture.
Beyond just talking about Indian foods and using Hindu words, the story truly dove into Indian culture. I can’t speak to the accuracy of it–I’ll leave that up to the Indian-American bloggers–but I can speak to what it’s like to grow up as a second-generation immigrant in America. What hit me the hardest about this book was a scene at the beginning where Dimple and Rishi have to deal with the racism that all non-white/non-European immigrants face here. Dimple is embarrassed and ashamed, partially because of how she’s been bullied in the past. Rishi’s almost exactly the opposite. He doesn’t take one second of it. There are really no words that can do justice to the relief, elation, and gratefulness I felt to see this finally portrayed in a YA book for the first time after 4+ years of reading and reviewing in this genre. And what makes it even more unbelievable is Menon’s writing. If the scene had been pulled off but executed poorly, I would still have plenty of criticism for it. Menon managed to convey it in a way that was brave, mature, and elegant.
On a broader note, I respected Menon for her ability to show two (three if you count Hari) different approaches to living as an American-born Indian teen. While Dimple resents her family’s confines and traditions, Rishi revels in his family’s cultural background and history. This is another element to the story that stretches far beyond just being Indian-American, and it was important enough to be a subplot of sorts. The conflict splits Dimple and Rishi apart, Dimple resenting Rishi because she believes he doesn’t have enough of a spine to stand up to his family, and Rishi resenting Dimple because he thinks that she’s being selfish.
If I was in this situation, I would be Dimple almost all of the time, for the reasons she states: being independent, having people like you for you, living your own life, doing what you love and what you’re good at. I’ve been blessed to have parents, family, and a community that supports me living that way. As I grow older though, meet more people, and make more international friends, I realize that it’s so difficult to live like that for most teens out there. It makes me more thankful to be living it, but it also makes me appreciate and empathize with the people who are living selflessly the way that Rishi does. Because of this, I couldn’t hate Dimple, but I couldn’t support the way she pushed Rishi so hard. There is no one correct answer to the situation, and it was his choice to make for himself and for his family.
Speaking of Rishi, I’ll tentatively say that he’s one of my favorite YA characters to have read… ever. He’s realistic, kind, and down-to-Earth. Despite that, he’s completely able to call people out and face injustice. He felt like someone I could be friends with in real life. I respected his dedication to his passions, whether that was his family, his comics, his cultural history, or Dimple. It’s really different in YA to have a character like that, someone so unabashedly confident in what he loves, even if they’re “uncool”, and I enjoyed every word of getting to know him.
Then, of course, there was Dimple. I liked Dimple, but not like I liked Rishi. On one hand, there was the plus that she’s a woman in tech, is able to hold her own in an argument, and is the kind of girl who fights for what she wants. On the other hand, her character was somewhat inconsistent throughout the book.
At first, I thought that maybe it was just Menon fleshing out her character and showing us different sides of her. I appreciate that, and yes, there was some of that, but it’s important then to compare her character against Rishi’s. Rishi is fleshed out little by little, and he still has core attributes that make him recognizable. In his entirety, he’s a solid, easily-recognizable, cohesive character.
That’s not the way Dimple is.
In the beginning, we see that she has quite a fiery personality. I was actually a bit scared that that’s how she would be throughout the entire thing, because let’s face it, only a select few like Kiersten White can pull of a perpetually 200%-type personality like Lada in And I Darken. When Dimple became much more timid and small in the face of racism (understandable), I thought that Menon was trying to show us a different side of herself and was impressed by the way she’d pulled it off. The catch came when Dimple started descending into the cute, regular girl personality that’s typical of YA contemporary. By the end, I almost couldn’t recognize any of the anger or fire from the beginning of the book. Maybe it’s because she matured, was away from her family, fell in love. Those could all be the case. The problem is that the book doesn’t explicitly state any of that, meaning I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. Because the intention isn’t clear, Dimple’s not cohesive the way that Rishi is. Instead, she feels like a wishy-washy type character who could be anyone and everyone, and so ends up being no one.
I still enjoyed Dimple’s character and narration. In fact, this particular piece of criticism is almost entirely on a literary level, but I would like to see more characters like Rishi in Menon’s work to come.
Between Dimple and Rishi, the romance was super cute. There were a lot of sweet moments from the beginning, and there was enough conflict to make it realistic. The only thing I would mention is that things moved a little quickly. It wasn’t quite instalove, and I wouldn’t say that the pacing as a whole was rushed, but the story could’ve moved slower and it would’ve been fine. Similarly, the plot started unraveling at the end. In the beginning, everything was tight, the character were all together, the writing was spot-on.
Then the ending came and things started approaching pettiness.
There was some unnecessary drama, and it felt like the plot was just barely hanging onto relevance by a thread. The ending wasn’t disappointing; I liked the results on all ends. Even so, I wished that instead of delving into the meaningless social problems and arguments, Menon had continued to focus on Dimple, Rishi, Insomnia Con, and the like.
Overall, a solid debut. Menon still has a while to go before she becomes one of my favorite contemporary writers, but the door is open for her if she keeps up like this. 4.5 stars, will be rereading. I do have one last note on how realistic the CS portions of this were for those of you who are techy (or aren’t techy but still care ;)).
A final note on the computer science elements of this: I liked that the mention of CS was casual, just a backdrop or a setting, because that’s the way many of our everyday, real-life stories are now. We live in a world where technology touches everything, and our literature, at least some of it, should reflect that. It’s also the first time I’ve seen UI mentioned in a non-technical book, and that is glorious.
However, the page mentioning UI, wireframes, and pseudocode (I don’t think it actually mentioned pseudocode but you get the gist), is literally just a page in the beginning. From there, there’s little to no mention of any CS. I did say I like CS as a backdrop and this is all nitpicky because it’s my chosen field, but in this case, I was hoping for a little more because the story was almost exclusively about Dimple and Rishi’s relationship and not about Dimple’s love of code at all.
Also, the logic for Dimple going to InsomniaCon isn’t rock solid:
- InsomniaCon is essentially a web dev bootcamp that has a competition at the end with a prize of potential partnerships with big-name people, like a hackathon.
- If it’s a web dev bootcamp, it’s probably only focusing on websites and web apps, but Dimple implicitly references mobile apps, which she wouldn’t be developing there.
- If Dimple’s parents are solidly middle class (as she says they are), $1,000 is a big deal. As such, she should try her best to work around going. I was self-taught for web dev, and I’d say it’s one of the easiest CS-related things to learn online. I get that the competition portion of InsomniaCon makes it worth going, but then it shouldn’t be advertised as a program where you’re there to learn “the basics of web development”, which wouldn’t get you very far anyway.
- If you do go to a tried-and-true web dev bootcamp, then the biggest advantages you’d have is in learning backend, app frameworks, database structures, and a solid understanding of code logic. It seems like Dimple already knows how to code when she gets to InsomniaCon. If she’s coding anything like JS, Java, Python, C, or any of the other core languages, what could she possibly be learning at InsomniaCon that she can’t learn anywhere else?
Correct me if I’m wrong on any of this, but if I were in her situation, where, say, I code Java, I’m enrolled in Stanford, I want to get away from my family, I barely know web dev, my family can’t really afford $1,000 on something small, and I have the opportunity to go to this web dev competition, I would skip it, deal with my family for the summer, learn web dev or something more serious online, and feel better equipped to face Stanford in the fall. Again, all nitpicky, but I found much of the coding portions of this to be unrealistic.