This post on Dimple Shah is by Feliza Casano, who writes about science fiction, manga, and other geeky media around the internet. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she moderates two book clubs and reads potentially too many books. Follow her on Twitter @FelizaCasano.
A friend sent me a copy of Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi because “it sounds exactly like the kind of thing you’d be into,” meaning more specifically a romance involving arranged marriage. The cover description describes it as “suggested arrangement”: Dimple’s family has been friends with Rishi’s family for quite some time, and they think their children might be well-suited to one another. And so I settled in to read what I expected to be a cute, fluffy romantic escape—and when I finally finished the book and set it in my “Read” basket, I kept thinking about the book much longer.
Dimple meets Rishi at a web development camp at Stanford the summer before they start college. What I assumed was a background setup for the cute romance ended up being a much more important aspect of the plot: Dimple’s main motivation through the course of the book has nothing to do with Rishi and everything to do with her idol, Jenny Lindt, a woman who built her own tech company from the ground.
When the reader meets Dimple at the start of the story, she’s over the moon about her acceptance to Stanford and eager to escape the pressure from her family and community to land an ideal husband. She has ambitions, and those ambitions matter to her much more than satisfying other people’s desire for her to get married.
I read the book in one sitting, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and eventually I was forced to admit to myself that I wished I had a book like this when I was in high school.
My own romantic life as a teen was very different from Dimple’s: I had boyfriends from a relatively early age and I typically didn’t go very long being single. But that’s not to say it wasn’t fraught with difficulties: I frequently dealt with assumptions about my intellect or my abilities while I was in school, and sometimes it came from boyfriends I had assumed—at least at the start of the relationship—would be supportive.
Like Dimple Shah, I also had ambitions, sometimes far beyond the ambitions of the people I dated, and some of them made it terribly clear they didn’t like that.
When it comes down to it, Rishi supports Dimple’s aspirations without feeling threatened by them, and there’s a part of me that wishes I had seen that supportiveness in a teen relationship when I was younger. By the time I found a relationship with that type of support, I was far along into adulthood.
Beyond the relationship aspect of the novel, though, there was one scene that spoke to my eighteen-year-old self who really needed to hear it long before I had a chance to read it.
At the core of the camp Dimple Shah and Rishi attend is a competition to design an impactful mobile app, and the winner has the chance to get a critique of their app from Dimple’s idol, Jenny Lindt. Dimple is elated at the idea that she might get to not only meet her idol, but also to hear her feedback, and she designs an app designed to encourage diabetes patients to track their condition through gamification. I’ve watched my mom deal with diabetes for much of my life, the way Dimple has watched her dad in the story, so I understood how impactful an app like this could be—and when she lost the competition to a group of kids who designed a game about drunk zombies, I was almost as devastated as she was.
Through some maneuvering, patience, and dedication, Rishi speaks with Jenny after she has the feedback meeting with the winners—one of whom is the son of the wealthy donors of the new computer wing at the college—and shows her the work Dimple did on her own app. Jenny is impressed with Dimple’s ideas and skills, and she makes some time to meet with Dimple in private.
While the fact that Rishi felt so compelled to help Dimple is on a very separate romantic level, it’s the meeting between Dimple and Jenny that brought tears to my eyes as I read it. After telling Dimple her work is a solid idea, Jenny has a very serious talk with Dimple about privileges that she doesn’t have and things that will be obstacles for her in the future. She very directly tells Dimple that it won’t be the last time she sees people with privilege having unfair advantages over those with talent or skill.
I’m a child of the ’90s, and I was raised in an educational environment where we were told that talent and hard work would mean equal opportunities, even when I reached high school. Because of that, college and grad school were shocking. It was in college that people openly questioned whether I was good enough to be in the classes I took or at the jobs I held. It was suggested on multiple occasions, openly and to my face, that I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t belong. I watched students from wealthier families take opportunities I couldn’t even apply for while I juggled jobs to pay bills their families could pay for them.
Most of those things happen to Dimple over the course of the novel, and she handles all of it far better than I ever did. Dimple lives in a world that’s not perfect and isn’t fair, but Menon doesn’t make the novel into a fairy tale by having Dimple win the competition despite the unfairness.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a romance that makes readers feel good at the end, but far beyond that, Dimple Shah is the contemporary YA heroine I needed to read when I was sixteen.