First comes love, then comes marriage. For Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel, though, that order is a little more mixed up — especially since Rishi goes into what will be their first meeting at Insomnia Con (a summer college coding program) thinking he’s going to meet the girl his parents have decided he will marry. Only as Rishi discovers when he does meet Dimple, she has no clue this is happening, and romance is actually the last thing on her mind. An aspiring app developer — and a talented coder in her own right — Dimple is here for one reason alone: to win the grand prize and meet her idol, Jenny Lindt, thus allowing her to make her design dreams a reality. However, like all best-laid plans, Dimple’s goes out the window when the competition partners her with Rishi. As both teens discover, they not only have a lot in common but, like their parents predicted, they are quite compatible as romantic partners — especially once they get to know each other.
When Dimple Met Rishi‘s crowning achievement is the romance between its main characters as they each fall for one another at varying paces. The process is perfectly charming as the young couple goes on dream “not dates” and get to know each other. Author Sandhya Menon easily pulls off a tricky feat, giving readers plenty of reasons to not just root for Dimple and Rishi’s romance, but also their individual dreams and desires. Both teens come from different economic backgrounds and family set-ups and have their own passions (her technology, him comics). Menon also draws on the two’s shared cultures — they’re both children of Indian immigrants — to let them connect on a different level than some of their teen romance peers. They understand where each other’s parents are coming from; they get the pop culture references (both American and Indian); they even speak the same languages (English and Hindi). It’s a dynamic that’s rare in contemporary YA, and one that Menon vividly portrays.
Dimple and Rishi offer two different lenses through which to view the second-generation Indian American experience. Dimple bristles against her mother’s more traditional desires for her (marriage, grandchildren, etc.), while Rishi remains devoted to his parents’ similar hopes and dreams for him (an engineering degree, marriage, etc.). But it is as each teenager tries to navigate this, along with what they want for themselves and each other, that both characters become fully realized. Neither one is looking to fully define their identities — an important journey but one that can often be the focus of coming-of-age tales. Instead, the novel focuses on what it means to be young, fall in love, and follow your dreams. The idea of arranged marriage is a tough one to broach in fiction — and not just the young adult kind — for fear of villainizing characters with more conservative beliefs. Menon not only tackles the topic here but does so with aplomb, conveying what drives both sets of parents without letting them become stock stereotypes.
Full of warm characters and sweet romance, fans of contemporary young adult novels will want to pull up a chair and read all about When Dimple Met Rishi. B+