BOOK REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi
Sandhya Menon
Simon Pulse
2017
380 pages
★★★★☆

By the time I was in middle school, my parents trusted me enough to leave me home alone during the summers. I strictly played The Sims Makin’ Magic, listened to one album on repeat over our old sound system, and read every pink-covered young reader romance book I could get my hands on. I finished about a book a day. All these books were essentially the same: Girl with bratty friends meets boy, complication arises, girl ends up with boy. Switch out “bratty friends” with “bratty rivals and traditionalist mom”, add in a few extra doses of wokeness and feminism, and you’re on your way to understanding why I was a sucker for When Dimple Met Rishi.

A Brief Summary…

Dimple Shah and her mother have different ideas about what an Indian-American daughter’s role should be after high school, but that doesn’t stop Dimple from pursuing her dreams as a coder at Stanford and applying to SFSU’s Insomnia Con, a summer program for coders to show off their web development skills by creating a groundbreaking app. Dimple is singularly focused on the prize: her hero, Jenny Lindt, critiquing her finished product. But when a fellow participant approaches her with the line “Hello, future wife”, she realizes her parents miiiight have only said yes to this convention because her Ideal Indian Husband – or rather, arranged marriage partner?! – would be there trying to woo her the whole time.

Lucky for Rishi Patel (aforementioned I.I.H.), he didn’t know Dimple was going into the conference not even knowing about his and her parents’ prearrangement. When Dimple and Rishi get partnered up for the entire Con, Dimple thinks she’s going to explode. What ensues is a slow burn romance that crops up right under the characters’ noses, until… well, enter “complication arises” here.

This is a novel with a heartwarmingly typical romance cycle (and might I say… delightfully cheesy at times?), a new and techy setting, and intriguing characters with conflicting desires that make their decisions at the end of the summer lessons for us readers.

Props to When Dimple Met Rishi for showcasing Indian traditions, while also giving us two Indian-American kids navigating two cultures… and how different that can look and feel for each person.

Some Love

I listened to this book, enraptured, for days; so yes, I liked it. To me, this novel is that fun love story that every teen girl is writing in her bedroom closet at night; A guilty pleasure, what we all have to be able to imagine for ourselves to sleep during the lonely midnight hours as lovesick teens.

It was also well narrated – to be honest, the print in the physical copy was small, and I’m so bad at reading words in other languages that the dual-narrated performance by Indian Americans really enhanced the experience for me. (And, you know, let me listen on my way to work and when my eyes are tired. Oh how I love audiobooks.)

Favorite Scenes (Possible spoilers??? IDK. Nothing too big though)
  1. When Rishi ends up at a party full of art majors and is in a quick-draw competition. Okay, to be honest, I absolutely loved. every. passage. about Rishi’s comic book art, but this one was tops.
  2. This woke AF quote from page 347:

    “And I’m going to have to have a talk with the organizers about conflicts of interest. If your parents donated the new computer science wing? … You shouldn’t even be allowed to participate…. I wish I could say stuff like that’s a one-off, but it’s not. You’re going to see a lot of it. People getting ahead unfairly because of the category into which they were born: male or white or straight or rich. I’m in a few of those categories myself, which is why I make it a point to reach our and help those who aren’t, those who might not necessarily be seen if I didn’t make the effort. We need to shake this field up, you know? We need more people with different points of view and experiences and thought processes so we can keep innovating and moving ahead.”

Those two elements of the book, along with Dimple’s feistiness, is what really sealed this book as a higher-than-3-star-rating for me.

Could Be Better…? A Few Notes

Pacing. Since the novel is narrated by both Dimple and Rishi, there is a lot of time spent pondering one moment in each narrator’s perspective. This would be fine and continually interesting if only the most pivotal moments were narrated like this, ie: Dimple and Rishi’s first meeting; however, I felt that I spent too much of the story being pulled back at the narrator change when I just wanted to know what would happen next.

Speaking of pacing… the end of the book was a total departure from this type of narration. And that switch kind of annoyed me. Like, you’re going to make me muddle through every moment twice when they’re falling in love, but not when things get dicey?! In fact, the final chapters have such large gaps in time that it’s jarring when compared to the slow plod of the rest of the novel. It didn’t really work for me.

Where’s the coding talk? This premise was so exciting to me because I thought “yes! A romance book that is going to get girls interested in coding! OMG I WILL LEARN SO MUCH”. As it played out, I didn’t learn anything about coding that I didn’t already know from reading this book. In fact, I learned more about art school than coding. There was just so much potential that I felt was not carried through on… Yes, Dimple is a coder, and a geeky glasses sort of girl, but she never really goes into how to code or what she loves about it in a procedural way. I wanted much more of that.

Because of the Hype…

Because of all the internet hype, I had really high expectations for this book. For me, this book’s being published and widely advertised and consumed is the triumph – the book itself is no “wow”. It’s good, but not earth-shattering. This is not to minimize #ownvoices at in any way – all genres and authors need good-but-not-earth-shattering books, and with When Dimple Met Rishi, we’re upping our count of good, popular books written by Indian Americans by one.

Bottom Line

Had this book been available to me in middle school, I would have devoured it and been made the better for not reading another book about another blonde girl on Cape Cod for the summer. But if I’d been told more about coding from a character who adored it, I may have been more inclined to grow from this book.

What did you think of When Dimple Met Rishi?