First look: Sandhya Menon spins a fake dating scheme in her frothy new novel
One of YA’s fizziest writers is returning to freshen up an old, beloved trope: the fake-dating scheme.
In 10 Things I Hate About Pinky, her anticipated follow-up to New York Times best-seller When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie, Sandhya Menon shifts the action to Pinky and Samir, acquaintances who strike up a romance for mutual gain: Pinky, a proudly self-identifying social justice warrior, invites Samir to pose as her boyfriend over a summer at her family’s Cape Cod lake house, where she can quell criticisms of her past “decisions” (a.k.a. bad boyfriends) and he can get away for a bit from his internship just falling through, and having cared for his sick mother.
Sparks, of course, fly. As publisher Simon Pulse teases, “As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.”
Since her 2017 debut When Dimple Met Rishi, Menon has exploded as a major voice on the YA scene, largely focusing on witty and original Indian-American rom-coms. She’s got a lot more on the way, too: Her adult debut Make Up Break Up is in the works for a 2021 release, and next year she’ll also launch a new series with Of Curses and Kisses, a contemporary retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
But back to 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. Menon has shared with EW an exclusive preview of her steamy new novel, in the form of a cover reveal and first excerpt. Read on below. The novel publishes June 30, 2020, and is available for pre-order.
Excerpt from 10 Things I Hate About Pinky, by Sandhya Menon
The dead body was an especially nice touch.
Pinky Kumar grinned at her friend Ashish’s prone figure.
“This is amazing,” she said, touching Ash’s face. It looked waxy and pale, and his lips were the exact right color of death. Well, what death probably looked like, anyway. “You said Sweetie did this?”
“Yeah, she took a stage-makeup class last year,” Ash said, cracking open one translucent eyelid. “Does the hair look okay, though? I did that myself.”
“The hair’s poppin’,” Pinky said, lifting up a few strands of the purple wig he wore, the thick locks falling past his shoulders. “You look like you could start shredding on a guitar any minute.”
They were in Pinky’s living room, where they’d lit a dozen LED candles all over the furniture and floor and drawn the shades for extra ambience. Ashish was lying on the couch, his arms crossed on his chest, barely breathing. Of their friend group, he was the only one who’d been able to help her out on short notice; everyone else had already flitted off to various holiday destinations. Ash himself was leaving for Hawaii later today.
“Okay, do you have what you need now?” Ash said, shifting a bit on the couch. “This wig’s pretty itchy.”
“Almost.” Pinky stepped back and took a couple of pictures with her phone. “Let me get a wider angle. . . .”
“What charity’s this for, again?” Ash asked, peeking at her through the fringe of his wig.
“Don’t you ever listen when I talk?” Pinky asked, huffing a bit.
Ash laughed. “Seriously? This is, what, like, charity number thirty-two you’re helping this week?”
He had a point. “Fine, fine. It’s for the GoFundMe page of that nonprofit Super Metal Death,” Pinky said, taking another picture. “They used to be just Metal Death, but they really amped up their community-outreach efforts last year.”
Ash raised a thick eyebrow but kept his eyes closed. “Right, of course, Super Metal De—”
Pinky peeked out the big bay window. “Oh, crap.”
A white Porsche Cayenne had just pulled up, and a moment later, her mother stepped out, eyes hidden by her sunglasses, Hermès pantsuit still perfect after an eleven-hour workday. She speed walked to the house, her thin face wearing that same harried, pinched expression it always did.
For just a moment, Pinky felt a surge of panic. Her mom was, at the best of times, an extremely formidable adversary. But when she’d had a busy day at work and just wanted to unwind with her Sudoku book and was instead confronted by yet another one of Pinky’s special projects? Picture that girl from The Exorcist, with her head spinning, only instead of green vomit, Pinky’s mom wore pantsuits and spewed straight-up acid.
“What?” Ash said, cracking open one eyelid. He itched his scalp, and his fingers moved his wig so it was now half covering his face. “What’s wrong?”
But before Pinky could answer, her mom had opened the front door and was clip-clopping her way to the living room. Pinky stood there, frozen in indecision, and then it was too late. Her mom’s shadow came first, and then her mom herself emerged into the living room, her sunglasses pushed up on the top of her head.
As she took in the transformation her once-perfect living room had gone through, her face went from pinched to blank to confused to—
“Priyanka! What the hell!” Her mother rushed to the couch, frowning. “Is that a doll?”
Pinky opened her mouth to tell her the truth, but then a tiny pinprick of gleeful defiance bloomed in her chest. Why did her mom insist on calling her “Priyanka” when she was mad, when she knew perfectly well Pinky despised her full name? Also, why was her mom so quick to judge all the time? Why couldn’t she approach this situation with a joyful curiosity instead of freaking out? “No, it’s not a doll. It’s . . . a dead body.”
Her mother stopped short, her face going sallow. “No, it’s not,” she said, but there was a thread of uncertainty in her voice as she took in the candles and the dark room and thought about all the things she likely did not know about her delinquent daughter.
Pinky stared at her mom without smiling—and then grinned. “You totally believed me, didn’t you?”
Ash sat up, grinning too, and Pinky’s mother shrieked and jumped backward.
“It’s just Ashish, Mom,” Pinky said, giving him a fist bump. “Pretty sick beat face, right?”
“Pretty what?” her mother said, blinking at the big dude on her couch. “Ashish? Is that really you?”
“Hey, Ms. K,” Ash said, waving and pulling off his wig.
Her mom looked at the wig for a long moment and then back at Ashish. “Why are you . . . corpsing . . . on my couch?”
“It’s for Super Metal Death,” Pinky explained. “I’m raising money for them. They’re crowdfunding to bring hot meals to band members from defunct bands. Did you know that eighty-two percent of formerly famous band members now live in homeless shelters?” She took a seat beside Ashish, her fishnets digging into her thigh a bit.
Her mother frowned. “There’s no way that statistic is right.”
Adjusting her position, Pinky swung her black military-style boots onto the couch. “Sure it is. People don’t realize how brutal the music industry can be.”
But her mother was glaring at her, no longer listening. “Get your shoes off the couch.”
“What’s the big deal?” Pinky said. “We’re going to get them cleaned soon anyway.”
There was a tense silence, and then her mother smiled a little at Ashish. “It was very nice seeing you, Ashish,” she said. “Please tell your parents I send my regards.” Turning to her own flesh-and-blood daughter, she added in a barely controlled voice, “Can I please speak with you . . . alone?”
Ash stood, looking nervous under the cadaverous makeup. “Ah, I better be going. See ya, P. Have a good summer vacay, Ms. Kumar.”
“You too, Ashish.” Her mother was doing one of those scary, plasticky smiles that made her look like a mannequin. Actually, she’d make a pretty good corpse.
Pinky flipped Ashish the peace sign even though her nerves were jangling at the prospect of the argument she knew was coming. “See you when I get back, Ash. Have fun in Hawaii. And tell Sweetie I said thanks for lending her makeup skills to a great cause.”
Once the front door had closed behind him, Pinky leaned back against the couch, her arms crossed. The clock on the wall ticked. The air hummed.
Her mom said, in a super-calm voice, “Where’s your father?”
Pinky shrugged. “I guess he’s still at that meeting in Menlo Park.”
“So you invited a boy here when you’re home alone. That’s against the rules, as you well know. Four days into summer break and you’re already—” Her mom broke off and rubbed a hand over her forehead.
“Already what?” Pinky said, her heart starting to trot. When her mom remained silent, she changed tack. “Anyway, it wasn’t a boy. It was just Ashish.”
Pinky’s mother pinched the bridge of her nose for a long moment, then walked to the entertainment unit to get the LED candle remote. She turned off all the candles and grabbed another remote to open the motorized blinds covering the big windows.
Turning back to Pinky in the suddenly bright room, she said, “Have you even started packing for the trip yet?”
“We’re not leaving till tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got plenty of time.”
Pinky’s mom’s stare turned icy. “No, you’ve had plenty of time. Pinky, come on. I just want you to be a bit more responsible. Stop spending your time on these ridiculous ventures that don’t mean anything—”
Pinky held her breath for a moment. “They mean something to me,” she said finally, quietly, bunching her fists up on her fishnet-covered thighs. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“And I just want you to make better decisions,” her mom said, looking down at her from her vantage, making Pinky feel even more like a little kid. “Why is that so hard for youto understand?”
They stared at each other, at one of their many, many impasses. Finally, her mother exhaled, broke eye contact, and unbuttoned her suit jacket. Taking it off, she hung it carefully over one arm.
“One day, Pinky.” She shook her head, beginning to turn away. “One day you’ll understand that I’m not your enemy. And one day you’ll see why it hurts my heart when you insist on making these weak choices.”
Pinky threw her hands up in the air, her ankh pendant swinging with the force of her movement. “I didn’t make a weak choice! I’m helping charity! Name one weak choice I’ve made lately!”
“Aside from this one? All right,” her mother said, turning slowly to face her again. “Preston.”
Pinky felt her face close off. Crap. She’d completely forgotten about freaking Preston, her last boyfriend.
“Yeah?” she said, as if she didn’t know where her mom was going with this. As if it wasn’t the exact same place she’d gone with it ever since Pinky had brought Preston home (well, not exactly “brought him home” in the traditional sense. She’d sneaked him in her window and her parents had caught them).
Her mom gave her a you know exactly what I’m talking about look. “He got mandatory community service for something you still haven’t disclosed to us.”
Pinky groaned. “What’s your point, Mom?”
“My point is that maybe this summer, if you happen to get a new boyfriend, as you usually do every month or so, you could find a real boyfriend. Someone who isn’t prone to finding themselves on the wrong side of a jail cell.”
As her mom walked off to the kitchen, Pinky narrowed her eyes. A “real” boyfriend? What’d her mom think Preston was, a ghoul? Besides, Pinky thought, slipping her phone out of her pocket to post her pictures to the Super Metal Death GoFundMe page, “real” boyfriends didn’t exist in her world. Though, thanks to the little conversation they’d just had, that wouldn’t stop her mom from micromanaging every cute guy Pinky hung out with this summer at their lake house. It would probably become her summer project or something.
One thing was certain: This summer vacation was going to majorly, definitely, monumentally suck.