I know I just posted the other day that I would be doing fewer book reviews than normal, but I had to push myself to get this one done for #ValentinesDay! I don’t know if I have outright said this before, but Sandhya Menon is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors. Between her strong female characters, witty dialogue, character development, and diverse casts of characters, there is just so much to love in Menon’s books! As soon as I heard that she would be writing a modernized retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which just so happens to be one of my favorite fairy tales of all time, I was sold! I am so grateful that my request for access to an ARC was granted by NetGalley, because I am not sure how I would have contained myself until this book was officially published. And how was it?!? Freaking. Awesome!
Jaya Rao is a princess. Well, kinda. Hers is one of the “royal” families that still exist even though India is now technically a democratic republic. To Jaya, nothing is more important than family. And, ever since the centuries-old feud between the Raos and the Emersons caused her sister to be targeted and slandered, Jaya has been looking for a way to exact revenge on the Emerson clan. How utterly perfect, then, that she and her sister should be transferred to the same international boarding school as Grey Emerson as they wait for things to blow over. Once there, Jaya expected that she would have plenty of opportunity to get close enough to Grey that she could hurt him as much as his family has hurt her little sister… But, will even her love for her sister be enough to keep her going with such a nefarious plan? I won’t tell you how it all ends, but I will gleefully report that it is the first book in a series that, according to Goodreads, is a planned trilogy! #squeeeeeeee
Twinkle Mehra has big plans. She’s not hoping to make it as an actress or a singer, though. She wants to work *behind* the camera. Via letters to her favorite female filmmakers, Twinkle explains how she plans to change the world by presenting fresh new ideas from the perspective of a female, Indian-American film director. #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and we need diverse movies too! Not only does Twinkle get a big break by being invited to participate in a local summer film festival, but she breaks out of her wallflower status when her casting calls generate a lot of buzz. Twinkle is amazed to see that even the cool kids listen when she is directing and she begins to wonder whether this means she will finally get noticed by the über-popular Neil — especially since she is spending so much time with her producer, Sahil, who just so happens to be Neil’s twin brother…
Not only does Menon do a great job of writing authentic and relatable characters with fresh new story lines, but she manages to do so while subtly expanding her readers’ cultural knowledge. This story doesn’t get as far in to Indian culture as When Dimple Met Rishi, but it definitely gives readers a crash course in female movie directors and working to smash the patriarchy! Even if you don’t recognize all of the filmmakers and/or get all of the film references, which I am fairly certain *I* didn’t, it was a very fun read. Grab this book when it’s released next week and put it on the top of your #SummerReading pile.
I recently heard about this book from a colleague who thought it was a fantastic read, and then I stumbled upon an available copy of the audiobook only moments after talking to a patron about the [then] upcoming Diwali celebration… I figured it was a pretty good sign that this was a perfect time to check it out. (Happy belated Diwali, by the way!) I am *so* glad I that decided to go for it. Menon wrote a fantastic YA romantic comedy, PLUS she managed to do so while incorporating a lot of Indian culture and kept it from getting clunky or didactic. Not to mention the fact that the narrators were really great!
I think what I loved the most about this story was how authentic both Rishi and Dimple felt. I think it is likely that many American readers will find it easier to understand where Dimple was coming from — wanting to strike out on her own, follow her dreams, and choose her own career and life path instead of having her parents arrange a marriage to an Ideal Indian Husband. But I think there are surely some readers who will completely “get” Rishi, who is a hopeless romantic and believes that an arranged marriage is much more likely to lead to compatibility and lifelong happiness. At the very least, #WeNeedDiverseBooks so readers can be exposed to people from different cultures and better understand *why* people do things differently than they do. Since I have only known a few people whose marriages were arranged, it is still a largely foreign concept to me and I appreciated having another opportunity to learn more about this approach to love and marriage.
This book is about SO MUCH MORE than two families working toward uniting their children in an arranged marriage, though. One of the things I most appreciated was the way Menon depicted the struggle to stay true to one’s familial and cultural traditions while also forging one’s own path. I think many people can appreciate that, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, because it is such a universal struggle. While we might feel constrained by tradition, we also find comfort in what we’ve always known. And though readers may have different traditions and/or coming of age experiences than these characters, anyone with a working heart will surely feel #AllTheFeels when they read this story.