REVIEW: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
It took me super long to read this book because I read the first 15% around the end of August, wasn't hooked and then didn't pick it up again until this week. When I did, however, I finished it in one go, and I'm glad I read it.
The story has a lot of things going for it, but I do also have issues with other things. My original plan was to talk about the good and the less good separately. I mostly managed to do that, but it is a bit chaotic, and this might very well be the longest review I have ever written.
This book is a cute, diverse summer contemporary about two Indian-American characters (that part is ownvoices and I won't be commenting on the rep since I'm white, but I've heard nothing bad about it at all). I felt like it had somewhat the same clichés/feels as other contemporaries, but it had some refreshing and new things too. And of course, it's way more important that there are happy stories, summer contemporaries, hate-to-love YA books for everyone, including Indian teens. Indian teens or other ownvoices opinions also mean so much more when talking about this book. I suggest you read some reviews like that, like this one, or this.
From here on, this review will contain minor spoilers.
I think the most famous moment of this book is when Dimple and Rishi first meet and he's all awkward and goes with "hello future wife" and I loved it! I think the coffee throw is both hilarious and very realistic. If an unknown man would come up to me to say that, I'd throw my coffee too. I think it sets a good tone for the rest of the book and shows great insight into the main characters already. Dimple's impulsive and empowered and Rishi is both adorable and awkward simultaneously.
As I've said already, this is a diverse YA hate-to-love, though it can be said the "hate" part didn't last as long as I thought it would and it transitioned very fast into a friends-to-lovers story.
There were a lot of things included that made this book stand out as diverse and refreshing:
• The book is not about Indian culture in an educational way, but it is very present. In the characters, their backgrounds, in small things like food and in the words used. It's unapologetic and shows that diversity just "is" and doesn't have to serve a purpose (especially not educating white people). There are different parent/kid relationships and both within this and other things the book does a great job of showing the culture and different persons from within. No group is a monolith.
• It's about a girl who codes. A real girl, with a real talent that is acknowledged from the start and isn't shied away from. A talent (and/or hard work) so present is a rare thing, in my opinion, for girls in YA. This even more so when talking about computers or electronics. In that way, it reminded me of Warcross. It also reminded me of Warcross because it was really a romance story at the core, and I would've liked to see more competition.
• There's a brother relationship! I have a sister I love very dearly so I adore sister relationships and think we have too little of them, but explored relationships between brothers are even rarer, so I was so glad to see this.
• A lot of feminist themes and remarks, with the inclusion of a male feminist character in Rishi! I was really excited to read that and some of his quotes are really awesome.
One of the guys held his hand out so the door wouldn’t close, but Rishi smiled brightly. “Oh no, you go ahead,” he said jovially. “Our brains need a break from all the unchecked, casual misogyny.”
• Dimple, Rishi and the Aberzombies all have different amounts of money and handle things differently. The fact that there were characters that let money make things easy for them and purposely put themselves in more privileged positions because of that, and Rishi, who had money but didn't let it define him, made for a nuanced view on having money and dealing with it. Add Dimple to that and you got a broad line of experiences. I do have to admit I was first confused and then baffled at the amount of money involved, which I think also means that even though Dimple had less and had to pay more attention, nobody was really struggling to get by.
• Multiple call outs regarding racism, sexism, misogyny.
• Dimple's app is awesome! She wants to create something to help her dad and others with their struggles with diabetes. I loved the inclusion of something like that, and the recognition it brought to the fact that not everybody is able-bodied (even though all other characters are).
There were also great discussions on privilege in the STEM field and how Dimple, as an Indian-American, middle-class woman would see people getting ahead unfairly because they were born male, white, straight and/or rich, which showed a lot of thought to intersectionality.
There was one aspect of diversity I didn't like or think could have been handled better, and I want to elaborate on that.
At the start of the book, there was casual mention of someone checking out both boys and girls, which got me really excited and hoping it would be labelled/elaborated/confirmed later. There was a reference to a past girlfriend in the second half of the book, but I didn't really like how it was handled. For one, I think a label would have been really easy to include and I would've loved to read that. I guess I felt like it could have been more. More importantly, though, the character experiencing attraction to multiple genders (mga) says her past relationship was "nothing serious" and she's the only one sleeping with multiple people around the same time. These things happen, of course, and those experiences and people are valid! It just plays into the stereotypes about MGA, that it might be a phase, that they're actually straight, that they're all cheaters (or even more likely to cheat), or that they're promiscuous. Again, for some people these things are true, but it can be harmful portrayal and it should be handled carefully, especially by authors who don't experience mga themselves. Chelsea and Ann Elise have pointed this out too, so go read their reviews!
Some other things I enjoyed:
• Dimple as a friend to Celia, mostly. At one point Celia is looking fabulous and Dimple thinks "I wish I could hate her". I have no idea why that was necessary and I think the book would've been better without it. For the most part, however, I did really like the interaction between them and how Dimple didn't let Celia walk over her but also didn't judge her on her friends or her mistakes and continued to be there for her.
• Rishi calling out the aberzombies
• The outrage at the 'paper bag' comment from both Rishi and Dimple.
• Rishi himself. He was so sweet, so awkward and so weirdly suave at other times. He knew what to say and didn't let anyone walk over him or people he cared about.
• Safe sex (no explicit words about contraception are said, however, but it is strongly implied). I liked that sex was portrayed in YA, that consent was a big thing, that it was sex-positive and there was no issue whatsoever about it being "so early" in their relationship because they both wanted it (as it should be).
After this overwhelmingly long part of the review detailing what I loved and liked and wanted to see more, I do have several more things I did not like that were also important.
The biggest of those being Dimples behaviour towards Rishi, which, in my opinion, might have bordered on problematic. She had no respect for his boundaries whatsoever, and this did not get better further along in the book. She pushes him to drink and doesn't respect him not wanting to. She pushes him to enter a contest after he had told her he didn't want to nor felt comfortable, and due to Dimples insistence, he ends up having to join. She pushes him about the brownies and likes the control she has over him and mentions the powerful feeling it gives her.
Another thing I really didn't like was how big she invaded his privacy. Rishi had already made it clear that he didn't want to share his drawings so she went behind his back to look at them and forward them to someone else. That's horrible. I'm not saying this isn't accurate behaviour, especially in films and books it's not the first time I see people do this, but it needs to be clear this is not okay! That kind of happened, since Rishi was mad and also pointed out there were notable differences between what he did for her and what she did to him, but it seems like he later backtracked a lot. In the end he said something along the lines that she was right and it was okay, which also made it feel like whether it was okay or not depended on if what they did it for was successful, whilst it's important to note that it is never okay to do something like that. At all.
Something she did I had issue with but do think improved towards the end of the book was the fact that she punched him. Other than the ice coffee incident, this wasn't a thing done out of shock or necessary for defence or whatever. I understand the coffee throw and would have done the same. I don't agree with punching someone, especially as it was specifically mentioned it was as an afterthought, and Rishi was actually hurt. This happened one more time, and one time it's mentioned that she wanted to punch him (but then didn't). It seemed to me like it does indeed get better, but I still think it's important to note.
Unrelated to Dimple or Rishi's behaviour but inexcusable was the amount of ableist language. It was really bad and pretty consistent throughout the entire novel. Please be aware of this when you read it and mention these things when you recommend this book because this can really hurt people.
For example (TW: ableism/ableist slurs) back when Dimple thinks Rishi is a stalker: "He was dressed pretty sanely for a psychotic attacker" or at another instance "You're driving me insane." Cr*zy was used 22 times. I encourage you to read Chelsea’s review for more about this too.
As said before, I was wary of the multi-gender attraction portrayal too, and there were some other unrelated little things like Dimple commenting on other girls' clothes and the use of "micro-penises" as an insult.
Again, I want to mention that I don't think it's wrong to portray this or that those things can never be in books, but I feel like too little things were called out, and that makes it an issue.
This book has a lot of things going for it and I understand that people like it a lot, but I do feel like it had some issues and those are definitely worth addressing and maybe even taking a star off for.