By Katy Goodwin-Bates
Just to set the scene, I read When Dimple Met Rishi between a hard-hitting collection of short stories about human rights and a thriller about a dude who had been shot twelve times. As a general rule, I don’t really read ‘nice’ books. There’s something about them that puts me off: the charming fonts on the cover, perhaps, or the pictures of happy, smiling people above them. It’s not my comfort zone. And yet, Sandhya Menon’s debut was precisely what I needed: a feel-good, warm hug of a novel that no reader with a fraction of a heart could resist.
The Dimple and Rishi of the title are a pair of Indian-American recently-graduated teens, right between high school and college, who meet each other at Insomnia Con: a web development convention for super-smart young adults with high levels of self-awareness and amusing banter. Their meeting isn’t entirely random, however; unbeknownst to Dimple, her parents and Rishi’s have been conspiring to force the two together in the hope of hearing wedding bells, which is the very last thing independent, escape-hungry Dimple wants. Rishi’s a different story; keen to please his parents and respect their traditions, he’s initially all too keen to ignite some parent-sanctioned romance.
Maybe they were finally beginning to realize she was her own person, with a divergent, more modern belief system that renounced the patriarchal dynamics of their time –
There was a sort of scuffling sound nearby, and Dimple opened her eyes, startled. An Indian boy about her age was gazing down at her with the weirdest, goofiest grin on his face. His straight, jetblack hair flopped down onto his forehead.
“Hello, future wife,” he said, his voice bubbling with glee. “I can’t wait to get started on the rest of our lives!”
There’s plenty that’s really refreshing about When Dimple Met Rishi; for one thing, the centering of the plot around Indian-Americans as protagonists rather than side characters is a delightful shift from the norm. Both characters also have a full quota of loving and supportive parents, none of whom are dying, in prison or generally useless, which is another sign of the appealing normality to the proceedings here.
The relationship between Dimple and Rishi is delightful too, with both exhibiting a level of angst entirely realistic for two high school graduates. They’re the nerdiest and most adorable characters I’ve encountered in a while too. The only cliche is, perhaps, the financial divide between the two, with Rishi enjoying the trappings of life as a CEO’s son while Dimple agonises over the money her parents have spent for her to attend the convention. I’m not sure how convinced I am that this is a plot device that is as necessary as the discerning YA reader might believe based on its ubiquity in the genre, but it doesn’t detract from the all-round appeal of Menon’s writing.
“Have you ever been to a party? Like, in high school?”
“Sure I have.”
Dimple raised an eyebrow. “Like, a legit party. One a parent didn’t organize.”
There was silence. She laughed. “You were thinking of Diwali parties, weren’t you?”
“Hey, they’re legit parties!” Rishi said, but he was laughing too.
The cultural portrayal is really interesting too, with both Dimple and Rishi under pressure from their parents to follow tradition and marry someone suitable. I’ve not read much about the idea of arranged marriage for young people, so this was new and engaging to me. All too often, diverse cultural representation in YA is in fantasy series rather than more grounded narratives, and it’s refreshing to see these ideas discussed with both a lightness of touch and a sensitivity that make them relatable.
There’s a really lovely sense of humor running through When Dimple Met Rishi; it’s the literary equivalent of a disarmingly charming movie rom-com, but with the emphasis on “pleasure” rather than “guilty.”