How do you reconcile the values of your parents that are different than yours? Do you follow the path they want for you or do you forge your own? In the book, When Dimple Met Rishi, School Library Journal’s 2017 Best YA book, these are some of the biggest questions and challenges for the narrators Rishi and Dimple. In this story, Dimple, a first generation Indian-American, is attending “Insomnia Con,” a summer coding institute where members design an app for a prize. The backdrop of this story is that Dimple’s family is beginning to pressure her to consider attract her “IIH” or ideal Indian husband. Unbeknownst to Dimple, a possible match between she and a boy named Rishi have been arranged by their parents. I chose When Dimple Met Rishi because it has protagonists that are of Indian descent. Until this book, I admit I had never read a book with Indian-American protagonists.
As a middle school teacher, I often see first hand students having dilemmas in their friendships. It may be a situation may vary- a student may be completely disengaged, or crying uncontrollably or just sad. The scenario in which this surfaces most is where, friend A has been friends with friend B, but that friend B is no longer treating them well. Or perhaps friend C is apparently friends with friend D, but friend D always ridicules and criticizes them. This addressed in this novel. Dimple’s roommate at “Insomnia-con,” Celia falls into a group of misogynistic, self-centered, cruel and racist friends. In one scene, Dimple herself decides to join them for dinner, even though days before, they said cruel things to her. She attends the dinner anyway and it does not go as expected. This type of situation in YA is important because the reader can learn from Dimple, a likable protagonist, that it is important to set boundaries and that it is good to be very selective with who you spend your time.
I do think, being with someone (whether a boy/girlfriend, or fiance or partner or husband/wife) is a huge expectation in our society. As soon as I started reading, When Dimple Met Rishi, I recalled experiences with the females in my family. I remember how I would sneak out of the house wearing converse and jeans with holes because my mom disapproved of my boyish attire. I also remember the question my aunts always asked me, “Do you have a boyfriend?” This is similar to the value system of Dimple’s family. The quest for her IHH is always in the background of their minds. While I am not a fan of romance genre of YA literature, I appreciated some themes that Rishi and Dimple’s relationship brought out. When Dimple breaks up with Rishi, I understand her logic – she is committed to following her career goals. I also know that she, and Rishi, in different ways, are battling the value systems of their parents. This is a reality for many people. I am nearly 40 years old and after having just visited them (my parents), still am at odds with their ideas of what is right and wrong.
This book is a YA romance novel in which Sandhya has the two protagonists take turns narrating their perspective. This works well and gives a great sense of two different perspectives. In a memorable scene, upon seeing Dimple at a coffee shop, Rishi approaches her, and says, “Hello, future wife,”…”I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives” (Sandhya, 42:00). Dimple throws her iced coffee at Rishi, who until this moment, had not remembered from their younger days. The next chapter, told from Rishi’s perspective, begins with, “Oh crap. Oh no, no, no! He’d been kidding!” (Sandhya, 43:00). This works throughout the novel. It is especially illuminating for the audience in the times where important situations happen. During an uncomfortable dinner scene, the audience gets Dimple’s and then Rishi’s view, or vice versa. The audience gets both perspectives while they are learning Bollywood-esque dance routine, and after their first kiss.
This was my first YA romance novel. While it is not something I would read on my own, for pleasure, I did find it entertaining. What I was most drawn to, was that the characters were not White. Dimple and Rishi, the alternating protagonists are second generation Indian-Americans. With that, the reader is exposed to what this reality is like for them, whether how they deal with the expectations of their family or the expectations of themselves. As a librarian, I would read another one of Menon’s books. I enjoy reading a perspective that is not my own. In addition, the demographics of my school are 30% Asian, which gives me more reason to read works with characters that I teach. Lastly, I am very happy that nowadays, students, such as my Indian American students, have books like this with characters that look like them, yet are not subjugated to stereotypical representations.
When Dimple met Rishi, was a fun, engaging, and heartfelt journey. The reader sees the characters struggling with both what is expected of them and their own desires and wants and needs. It has many positives – depiction of Indian-American protagonists, themes such as becoming your own person as a young adult and finding the people who you want to surround yourself with. In addition, it offers. I recommend this novel as an addition to public and school library collections.
Menon, S. (2018). When Dimple met Rishi. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers