The Tucson Festival of Books celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and to honor that milestone, this month My Take/Your Take features four books by 2018 festival authors. We provide our personal take after reading the books, hearing from the authors in sessions and sometimes meeting the author in person. This week we give our take on When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.
REBECCA: In When Dimple Met Rishi, teen feminist Dimple Shah is ready for a break from her Indian American family and her mother’s obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Dimple believes that because her parents paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers that they may finally understand her desire to make her own way. Meanwhile, Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic who believes in the power of tradition and wants an arranged relationship. When his parents tell him that his future wife will attend the same summer program as him, he’s ready.
With the exception of the arranged meeting, which is a welcome addition to YA Lit, When Dimple Met Rishi is your basic YA rom com. I can’t tell you how many young people come into Worlds of Words as student workers, interns, volunteers and researchers who talk about reading romance on the down low as though it were a shameful thing. Why is that? Often in other genres, there’s a romantic B-story and we seem cool with that. Why the judgement?
CELESTE: The assumption that romance equals a formulaic plot might be partly to blame for judgement and negative association. I see some familiar romance literature patterns within When Dimple Met Rishi, such as Rishi’s continual attempts to crack the surface of Dimple’s initial displeasure with him as an individual, attempting to win her affections despite her distinct expressions of disinterest. However, the overarching conversation within the narrative about arranged marriage and cultural tradition in general helps to disrupt the standard YA romance formula. Beyond this, when the two characters meet, the arrangement of the marriage is known to Rishi, but not known to Dimple, so even within the notion of arranged marriage, there is a break in the formula. I am struck by the idea that Rishi is content to follow tradition both in terms of career and family, and the novel begins with our understanding that Dimple is a rebel who wants to make her own way in the world regardless of tradition. But by the end of the novel both characters become less extreme in their stances regarding adherence of tradition in their own lives.
I’m usually put off by romance that seems to assert that it is important to compromise our personal and cultural values for love, but I was cheering for both of them by the end. So, in a sense the element of romance is neither an A-story nor a B-story, but carrying equal weight with the story of how to honor tradition while simultaneously being true to one’s self.
REBECCA: Ha! Yes, I shouldn’t diminish how this book disrupts the genre formula by virtue of bringing in arranged marriage and non-white cultural traditions. That’s the importance of this book–it disrupts the publishing tradition! I’d like to read more. And in fact, Menon’s new YA romance, From Twinkle with Love, is likely to give us more. Dimple, Rishi and Twinkle are the new typical American teenager, as Menon asserted in her TFOB session on clashing generations and expectations. Like many typical American teens, Menon’s characters live in two cultures, deal with micro aggressions and find their identity. For that reason, I’d be disappointed to hear that someone didn’t read When Dimple Met Rishi because they buy into the standard judgement on romance.
The #MeToo movement emphasizes the need to hear intersectional feminist voices. Menon says that she plans to continue to write feminist protagonists in teen romance, so we will see characters who don’t compromise personal and cultural values for love. Maybe we are about to see a shift in teen romance that will shake up the formula and give readers a vision of romantic love that affirms sense of self without compromise. This isn’t your Jane Austen brand of feminism!
CELESTE: In a sense they do compromise, and that is partly why the characters are so real and so strong. Rishi decides, at the last moment, to pursue art instead of engineering even though that choice breaks with the expectations of his family. He compromises his own convictions to be a dutiful and traditional son even though that looks like him choosing himself over his family. Dimple’s compromise is with her own expectations for herself. She wants to put her career and her individual desires before family, both her immediate family and her potential future family. She feels like she would sacrifice too much to choose a relationship and marriage with Rishi because in her experience it is always the woman in a heterosexual relationship who sacrifices most. But her mother helps her see that sacrificing a relationship with Rishi also hurts her own heart. It is the compromise, both for Dimple and for Rishi, that is radical.
I am excited to read Menon’s next book as well, and add another story to my outsider understanding of Desi experience. I am currently reading Mitali Perkins’ You Bring the Distant Near, in which a character fights an arranged marriage for similar reasons, only to agree to it later. Perkins’ book begins as historical fiction, moving into the contemporary, while When Dimple Met Rishi is contemporary throughout. Pairing these two books might make for an interesting conversation surrounding parental expectations and cultural traditions within love relationships and identity in general, and perhaps how time has changed our understandings of these issues.
We leave you with several questions to analyze this discussion. What kind of characters would readers like to see in teen romance? How would intersectional feminist protagonists change people’s perception of the genre? What text would you pair with this novel? What kind of conversations would you hope might emerge through this pairing?
Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date Published: May 2018
This is the second installment of March 2018’s My Take/Your Take, featuring books by authors who will be at the Tucson Festival of books. Last week we talked about Drum Dream Girl. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!