Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Rant: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

WARNING: This post includes spoilers and an unpopular opinion about a highly praised YA novel. Read at your own discretion.

Often times as bookworms (or as I like to call myself bookdragons), we focus on the books we love, the stories that sweep us away, and the characters we befriend. We like to ignore the stories we didn't like, leaving them in a dark corner of our bookshelves to collect dust. We can be afraid to share our opinion, to admit that something about a book didn't work for us, especially when a book is highly praised by so many other readers. We don't always want to talk about aspects that we're tired of reading.

One YA trope I'm tired of is when two characters, often times who barely know each other, fall madly in love and sleep with one another without consequence or discussion.

For example, let's look at When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon.

When Dimple Met Rishi is an adorable YA contemporary romance about two Indian-American teens who hold varying beliefs about tradition and are arranged to be married by their stereotypically oblivious parents. So there's Dimple, who is this headstrong young lady who doesn't hold to Indian traditions and would rather go to college for computer science and have a career than please her parents who want her to get married and become the typical housewife with ten children. Enter Rishi, a hopeless romantic that upholds tradition, believes in kismet, arranged marriages, and Indian gods, and wants to please his parents to no end.

This sounds like a fantastic story waiting to happen. Until it actually happens. For one, I thought Dimple would stay this headstrong, geeky girl throughout the novel, maybe pushing Rishi along to follow his dreams while Rishi would nudge Dimple into embracing some of her Indian traditions. Instead, we get a messy, convoluted story with one of the worst female characters I've read and the precious cinnamon roll Rishi, who deserves so much better than Dimple.

All because of (can you guess?)... sex.

Ah, yes. The stereotypical, I've-only-known-you-for-three-weeks-and-I-hated-your-guts-two-weeks-ago-but-we-share-something-special kind of sex.

Kill. Me. Now.

Now it wouldn't have been as big of a problem for this story, mainly because it's a YA contemporary romance and at this point I expect the characters to sleep with one another, but it's the way it happened that miffs me the most.

Dimple hated Rishi. And I mean truly hated him. She threw her perfectly good iced coffee at him when they first met, tried to switch partners during the coding camp, and complained every other sentence about how much she disliked him. Yet after one fun (and unnecessary) "team bonding" exercise, she starts to change her mind.

Her loathing of him doesn't last longer than a good twenty-four hours, we forget completely about the awesome STEM-focused coding camp they are attending, and soon everything involves kissing. For pages. Pages and pages upon them kissing or thinking about kissing. Even when Dimple has this firm belief in not having a relationship right now, but instead, focusing on college and career goals.

So it's during a particularly heated kissing scene, which is only a few weeks after they meet mind you, that Dimple decides that she wants to have sex. And Rishi, being the precious cinnamon roll he is, tells her that right now it's probably not the best moment, considering they are both racing with hormones and emotions and what decision do you think they were going to make during that time anyways? Plus, there's a hint of him wondering if that's what he wants--or if he wants to respect his morals/traditions/parent's opinion and do the right thing? (To which, Dimple complains it's their life, not their parents and they don't have to listen to their parents' wishes. I really wanted to slap her at this point, except I really wanted to slap her at every point.)

So they wait to make that decision at a later time when both are in the right frame of mind. Except only a few pages later, they're making out again and decide right then and there to have sex.

No discussion. Not decision-making. No talking about it afterwards either. Just do it and move along.


Where did that come from? What happened to all of Rishi's morals and beliefs? They just flew out the window when Dimple walked in? And also, why the heck did Dimple want that? Over and over in the story, she talks about how she doesn't want a permanent or long-distant relationship. She wants to focus on her school, on a career. Yet again, the moment Rishi shows up, she throws caution to the wind and wants a relationship (then doesn't want it, then wants it again, until I was whiplashed so hard I can't believe I could still finish reading this book).

And it was after they sleep together that Dimple wonders if Rishi loves her. Again, I ask: WHAt?! If you don't love someone, why are you sleeping with them? Have YA books stooped so low that it's okay to do that? That doesn't sound healthy to me.

I was angry. Angry because this was the perfect opportunity to spotlight a religion and set of traditions that are not the "stereotypical" or "cliche" Christian way but has high morals and beliefs. And it was thrown out the window, for what? To have realistic depiction of teens? To have a steamy sex scene in a YA novel? I just don't get it.

I've heard a lot of excuses about this kind of content in a YA book, for both insta-love and built-up relationships. It's realistic. It's normal. We need to show teens having safe, healthy sex. But honestly, I know a lot of teens who are not having sex, who aren't even in a relationship, and don't want to read about characters in the majority of YA books having sex. Instead, they want clean reads, books that show characters making the decision not to have sex or drink alcohol or use drugs. Characters who change the world, not the bedroom.

It would be great to spotlight people who have morals and beliefs beyond the "stereotypical" Christian books. (Though, if you write Christian books and you do it well, props to you. People need you to keep writing also.) Because a lot of people in our world have morals and beliefs. Even Dimple's belief of women being more than just a housewife would have been nice to see. But that part of her personality kind of faded away, came back for a moment, and then just dissipated. (Along with her interest in coding and computers.)

The book community is constantly (to the point of suffocatingly) looking for books that represent all people. Diverse reads are highly sought, which is great and which is why When Dimple Met Rishi is so highly praised. But I think to be truly representative of all people, we also need books where characters make the decision not to have sex or not jump into a romantic relationship because there are some teens that aren't in relationships or are choosing not to have sex. There are also teens that don't swear or drink alcohol or do drugs. I know these teens, I see these teens every day at work. It's possible to write books that are clean, there are some out there, but we need more. We always need more. (And we need better written ones.)

Who says that only Christian books have to include characters who are abstinent or drug-free? Or only Christian books can spotlight religion? There are so many diverse religions and people groups in America--in the world--that share similar beliefs and lifestyles such as not consuming alcohol or using foul language or having premarital sex. If the book community is begging for such diverse reads, why can't we show those lifestyles also? I would love to read a rip-roaring space adventure without a cliche conversion story or a high fantasy where the characters don't have to cuss up a storm every two paragraphs or sleep with every person in sight like they're some kind of feral animal.

Sometimes there needs to be a point where a character realizes there are more important things to do than get a girlfriend or boyfriend. I mean, if we can have a highly successful Spider-Man movie where Peter doesn't kiss the girl, I think we can have a YA novel where the romance doesn't overshadow the plot or where the characters don't sleep together by the end of the book.

When Dimple Met Rishi had a lot of great moments, especially representing Indian tradition. I just wish it had gone a step further and shown a different lifestyle that is often overlooked in YA. There were other problems I had with the novel as well (like the plot that disappeared once the kissing started or the unnecessary side drama), but I won't go into that right now. I wanted to like this book, and I'm not swearing off Menon's writing forever. I will definitely try more of her books in the future. But sometimes, I feel like I'm asking too much from YA, and maybe this expectation is the perfect example of why I normally avoid YA contemporaries. Because usually they are not my cup of tea. (Or iced coffee, eh?)

Is there a common trope/element of YA (or another genre) that you're tired of? Let's discuss it.

~I borrowed When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon from my local library and chose to write this post of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~

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