Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Rating: ★★★★/ 4 Stars
Genre: Contemporary YA
A hilarious and heartfelt novel about two Indian-American teens whose parents conspire to arrange their marriage.
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.
You’ve made me braver. It’s like you have this paintbrush, dipped in brilliant mauves and teals and golds, and you just totally redid my monochromatic life. I need you; I need your paintbrush.
Trigger Warning: Ableist language, sexist behavior challenge on page.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a blessing to read on so many levels but especially how it touches on spirituality, romance and family values that felt so personal to me and I’m sure many other marginalized readers.
I fell in love with the poetic writing style that had writings such as “his eyes reminded her of old apothecary bottles, deep brown, when the sunlight hit them and turned them almost amber. Dimple loved vintage things,” and “like his heart was wrapped in microwaved Nutella.” It was the perfect level of purple prose and very entertaining descriptions of two young adults getting to know one another after a freaky first meeting.
I gotta admit that I spent around three minutes laughing my heart out at the first time they met. Rishi struck me as this perfect balance of a traditional guy who was raised very closely by traditional people. He reminded me so much of good Arab boys who I wish would get such a good representation in books too.
Rishi knew he was not as American as his brother Ashish, but he did not let that get to him. He didn’t compare between the two nor did he find the points of difference as a reason to be insecure. I loved how confident and abashed he was about how spiritual, family-oriented and introverted he was. He’d been such a comfort to read. He reminded me of my ex-boyfriend. Having the exact amount of spunk to do whatever he could to make Dimple smile yet knowing his boundaries.
The way he’d stand up for Dimple, yet go as far as dance like a goof (WITHOUT A CARE ABOUT HOW HE LOOKED) to win a challenge with her, that just cemented in my mind how much I appreciated Menon writing a guy so unlike common YA boys in Rishi. The focus on Rishi’s own arc of how he grew into being more confident about his art and pursuing it into something tangible made me so happy. Also, he got to see more of his brother Ashish and the brothers’ relationship was something I got really emotional over.
Dimple on the other hand is a character I relate so much to when it comes to how she really worried that she was going to end up in a lifestyle so unlike her own. Although Dimple was so many things I am not, I couldn’t help but feel for her. Her anxiety around the disgusting duo Hari and Evan was so clear. I liked that she didn’t entirely need Rishi but she still appreciated his presence on her corner whenever those guys were around.
Now, I read some reviews that talk of how Dimple is violent around Rishi.
And I agree that she does use physicality around him in not very nice ways but what these reviewers don’t get is the years of Dimple fighting her own fights. It was evident in the way she reacted to the mean and demeaning things guys like Hari and Evan would say about her body that Dimple has gone through enough bullying in her life to always be on guard.
I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but as a middle-eastern person, I related to how Dimple often used anger as a reaction. You really can’t be anything but on guard around boys especially at that age. I remember being very hostile around guys not only because they made me insecure but because I always felt this current of worry about how far they’d take their jokes especially since I am and have always been fat.
Believe me, I love Rishi and I wrinkled my nose at every time Dimple would punch his arm or his ribs, but I could see my own anxiety in Dimple around guys and I understood that. For me, it was my words. I’d make them as sharp as I can. I was always defensive. Since I can’t actually touch and physically harm a guy when he’d say insensitive things. While Dimple could. I am not defending her action, but in a way, a review who did not grow up in an environment like Dimple, can’t really just call her violent and abusive.
Note that once Dimple felt comfortable and SAFE around Rishi, her actions turned quite calm and peaceful.
Another aspect I noticed in the book is the usage of ableist language. I agree. It made me cringe every time the words cr*zy or der*nged were used especially since they carry very negative connotations. It’s why I dropped the rating from a five out of five to four. I am not trying to erase anyone’s discomfort which they got from reading this book. But, you have to try and understand that these words are not used with the intent to harm. Sure, intent does not matter; it’s the effect they leave. I don’t believe Menon added any of these words to harm anyone; it does actually reflect how some people aged 18 speak. They don’t see the double entendre in their words.
As I mentioned, not to defend this, but Dimple is such a progressive Indian American girl who is actually fighting misogyny and sexism in her own household. She is always on the defensive from her mother’s expectations that I forgave her the harsh words she’d use in referencing her parents. A lot of Dimple’s anger and hostility came from a place of constant fight which I could see so palpably that I didn’t for one second think that they were used to actually harm and spread a bad stereotype.
This book also deals with a good heft of minor characters, whether they’re the parents of Dimple and Rishi, or the friends around them. I agree that I wanted Celia and Isabel to be more fleshed out female characters but they did shine through some moments. I felt so bad for them that I couldn’t entirely dismiss them as characters used to uplift Dimple. None of these girls are angels, they all come with very diverse backgrounds not only materialistically but also culture and emotionally. I understood from Celia’s behavior that she really felt desperate enough to befriend assholes like Evan and Hari than to be alone for six weeks. Did I blame her going along with the plan? Not one bit. I know a thing or two about being pressured into doing things that your moral system tells you that is WRONG. Isabel on the other hand felt as trapped as ever since she never once in the book had a chance to be separated from the two toxic twats. Dimple’s reaction towards the two girls also felt honest. She knew she’d be judgmental but she really tried her best to go against her natural behavior. I read once about how one’s first reaction to something is not who they are, it’s the second reaction that matters because it’s then that they implement their values into being a better or worse version. She really did try to help Celia especially with the mess with Ashish.
Onto the aspect of sexuality in this book. I honestly did not expect anything less than a romance unfurling between Dimple and Rishi. Although they come from very Indian cookie cutter families, I did not expect them for once to act in any other way than regular western young adults. I know other reviewers were bored with how the book focused on the romance aspect in the book but I don’t know what to say besides: What did you expect? This book has been promoted as a Bollywood love story… Bollywood movies are all about Kismet (fate) and extreme romantic gestures.
I want to mention that the relationship in this book kind of develops to the point where they have sex (I’m sorry if this is a spoiler) so aro/ace readers, although it’s not explicit, I don’t want anyone going into this not knowing because I’ve previously read fluffy books that suddenly had awkward romance in it. This one is not awkward. It’s rather very vocalized and sex positive. Dimple and Rishi talk about having sex on more levels than just the physical act and how ready they are since SEX from their perspective is more than just a physical act, PLUS: they talked more about sex and readiness than any other YA couples do I was so happily surprised by it that I wondered if I was reading the same book I’ve seen people pick apart.
Another aspect that I really liked is how different Dimple and Rishi were despite the family background they shared. It was so refreshing because it gave you a great example that no one character should be a monolith of how a group of a specific marginalized people are like. It made me very excited to see these Indian culture references which were so familiar to me since hello, middle-east is obsessed with Hollywood (Shah Rukh Khan is bae don’t @ me). My very first movie which I saw in the cinema was actually Ghajini so to have this book be so rich of Indian culture and not be one second apologetic about it (whether it’s Dimple in a kurta or Rishi whenever he opens his mouth to say amazing things).
Overall, this book felt like such a great way to give me, a marginalized reader, a home where some of my family values are reflected without any worry of them being problematic. It also gave me a pair I’ll never stop rooting for. With news of Menon’s sequel to this out, I’m more than excited to read When Ashish Met Sweetie.
About the Author