There’s a Tagalog word that best encapsulates how I feel about Sandhya Menon’s YA romance When Dimple Met Rishi: kilig. Its closest English translation would probably be “the feels,” but as anyone who grew up with a first language other than English can attest, only one’s mother tongue can fully encapsulate the depth of emotion one has felt. When Dimple Met Rishi is probably one of the best YA romances I’ve read in a long time, and the character of Rishi is also the first in a long time I’ve actually claimed a YA character as a book boyfriend. I absolutely adored this book. I immediately recommended it to an old acquaintance in the Philippines who writes “clean romances,” and as of this writing, I plan to pass on my copy to a teenage niece who I hope will enjoy it as much as I did.
When Dimple Met Rishi is about two brilliant Indian-American teens whose families have arranged their marriage. Dimple Shah is an aspiring computer coder who rebels against her family’s expectation that she’ll settle down with an “Ideal Indian Husband,” and signs up for computer camp in the hopes of impressing an app developer she admires. Rishi Patel is a romantic who is content to adhere to his parents’ traditions, and the summer before he begins at MIT, registers for computer camp so he can meet his future wife. When they meet, Dimple is horrified that this guy she’s never met could jeopardize her future, and Rishi realizes that things aren’t quite turning out the way he’d imagined.
I absolutely loved both characters, and their meet-cute made me laugh. I love how, despite Dimple’s rebelliousness against tradition, tradition itself isn’t presented as wholly a bad thing, and Dimple herself still also admits that she still feels bound to her parents’ expectations. In fact, one of the ways she and Rishi bond is that he understands how important her family is to her life, in a way that’s somewhat different from how family is important in North American culture.
Rishi is also a fantastic character. He’s a bit more of a starry eyed romantic than the type of guy I’d usually fall for, but there’s something utterly charming about mix of awkwardness and confidence. In my absolute favourite scene, when some snobbish rich kids from camp make Dimple uncomfortable at a fancy dinner, Rishi stands up for her and completely catches them off-guard. Unlike Dimple, he comes from a wealthy family, and I love that he’s so comfortable with who he is even when he doesn’t quite fit in.
I also loved the development of their relationship, particularly as each of them helps bring out the best in the other. Rishi helps Dimple become less self-conscious and more comfortable in her own skin, mostly by being so comfortable in his own. Dimple in turn helps Rishi face his secret longing to produce comic book art, despite his plans to fulfil his parents’ wishes and attend MIT.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet romance and an absolute delight to read. I love how nerdy both main characters are, and I especially love that this fantastic story is part of a (hopefully) rising trend towards more diverse representation in contemporary literature. I highly recommend it to all YA-loving nerds out there who may enjoy imagining what it would be like to spend a summer with the nerd of your dreams.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.