When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Contemporary

I dip into contemporary YA only on occasion, and YA rom-com even less. So there has to be a really unique take on the genre to grab my interest. This one has been making the rounds in the blogosphere for months, and it definitely caught my eye when I first heard about it earlier this year. It turned out to be a fantastic pick to bring along on my June vacation!

Told from two different perspectives, When Dimple Met Rishi follows two Indian-American teenagers during their summer break after graduating from high school. Dimple is ready for a break from her family, and can’t believe it when they give her permission to attend an expensive summer program for aspiring app developers. Little does she know, it is all part of her family’s plan to introduce her to Rishi…the young man her parents have secretly arranged to be her future spouse.

Rishi is, almost refreshingly, a hopeless romantic. He knows all about the arrangement between the two sets of parents, and attends the same summer program as Dimple in the hopes of getting to know her.

Little does he know that Dimple has been left in the dark as to who he is or what has been arranged, and deservedly freaks out when he first introduces himself.

What follows is a cute romantic comedy, with two really fun and enjoyable characters. It is made even better because by branching out from just being a love story, as it also brings up questions of culture and tradition, family relationships, and coming of age independence.

When Dimple Met Rishi tackles a controversial tradition, that of arranged marriages. I believe this is the first book I have ever read that doesn’t treat arranged marriage solely in a negative light. I have enough Indian friends who are in some form of arranged marriage to know that, although there are many bad arranged marriages out there in which girls were forced into the arrangement and/or treated terribly, there are many good ones as well. It is a complex issue, and while I can’t speak to the cultural accuracy in the story, it appears to be very well done.

The other thing this book did was Make.Me.Hungry!!! When I lived in New Jersey, our apartment was in a predominantly Indian and Pakistani neighborhood, and we had 3 different types of Indian restaurants and a grocer just within a 1/2 mile walking distance. Oh, how I miss that! Khatta Meetha! Nom-nom-nom.

Speaking of food, there is an amazing bar mentioned in the story, 2 sisters bar and books. A bar with tons of books to browse while you sip, and Sandhya Menon makes it sound like an adorable and amazing bar to visit. So I looked it up to find out…this is a real place in San Francisco!! And it just closed it’s doors in March. NOO!!!!

Ultimately, I found When Dimple Met Rishi to be an adorable, heartwarming story about two Indian American teenagers finding their way in life.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review – Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Createspace
Genre: Poetry, Feminism

These days, I don’t read poetry very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I read a book of poems. It has been years, other than a handful of Emily Dickinson or Maya Angelou scattered throughout the last decade. Then, last month, I discovered my birth mother’s poetry. And it felt invigorating, soul-crushing, and uplifting…yes…all of that, all rolled in to one, when I read her words.

And it came back to me in a rush, how much I used to love poetry. Once upon a time, I wrote poetry. I wrote about being adopted, about boys and love, about sitting beneath a tree on a warm, sunny day. I waxed poetic, and my poems were never anything special….but I enjoyed the process. It was one of my college boyfriends, a guy who also wrote poetry, and who turned out to be a horrible person, that turned me off of the genre.

Well, I’m ready to reclaim it. So, when I got home from my trip to meet my biological mother’s family, with a basket of her letters, and a journal of her poems, I felt inspired. To take up a new genre, and explore it anew. One week after returning home from that trip in April, I went out and bought Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

And that is how I found myself reading it during Dewey’s 24 hour readathon.

it is your blood
in my veins
tell me how i’m
supposed to forget

Milk and Honey is about survival, and is split into 4 sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The design of her poems are inspired by a Punjabi script called gurmukhi, in which words are written only using a period. There is no other punctuation; all letters are treated the same – no upper or lowercase. I loved this style, as it is often how I used to write my own poetry, only in my case, I was modeling e.e. cummings.

Rupi Kaur was born in Punjab, and moved to Canada with her parents at a young age, and through her poetry she provides a voice to other women of color who may be silenced in a patriarchal and/or colonizer culture. Before reading her poems, it helps to know where she is coming from, as she talks about in the preface:

my thoughts go to the sexual violence we endure as south asian women. we know it intimately. from thousands of years of shame and oppression. from the community and from colonizer after colonizer. by the time i am born i have already survived the first battle of my life. against female feticide. i am one of the lucky ones who has been allowed to live. we are taught our bodies are not our property. you will do with them as your parents wish until they pass the property onto your husband and his family. a good indian girl is quiet. does as she is told. sex does not belong to her. it is something that happens to her on her wedding night. our job is to lay obediently. not to enjoy. let him take.

our trauma escapes the confines of our own times. we’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children. my experiences have happened to my mother and her mother and her mother before that. it is generations of pain embedded into our souls.

i read hundreds of books growing up. but none can explain this torment to me. i need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things i am going through. at that moment i realize the importance of representation and know this must be different for my children. they must have access to their own literature.

Rupi Kaur’s writing is succinct; many of her poems are only a few lines. She is incredibly skilled in bringing her point across in a tiny amount of space.

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry
~ women of color

Some people describe her work as cliché, or simplistic. I disagree. Yes, there is a certain simplicity, a minimalism, but that does not make her words or message simple.

apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real

it is okay to sell what’s
between a woman’s legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings

the recreational use of
this body is seen as
beautiful while
its nature is
seen as ugly

YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!

I had that reaction quite a few times while reading her book. As a woman, as a feminist, as someone who has experienced trauma in my past, I could relate to many of her poems. And I found it a fascinating self-study to look back at all my post-it notes after finishing the book, and realize the poems I currently relate to the most were not in the sections about hurting or breaking, but in the chapter about healing.

This is a book about the human experience, and it is relatable on a wide variety of levels. It takes a lot of courage to write in such a personal manner, and I look forward to seeing what Rupi Kaur does next.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Review – Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

I’m finally getting a chance to write up some reviews for the books that I read during Dewey’s readathon! This one was one of my favorites.

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Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author: John Green & David Levithan
Publisher: Dutton Books
Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+

This is the story of two Will Grayson’s that meet about 1/3 of the way into the story. One Will Grayson, written by John Green, is the son of two doctors, loving parents that aren’t around very much. His family is fairly well off, and his best friend is Tiny Cooper. Tiny Cooper is a HUGE person, both in personality and size. He literally lights up the page. This Will lives by two life rules: 1) Don’t care too much, and 2) Shut up.

Caring doesn’t sometimes lead to misery. It always does.

~ Will Grayson

The other will grayson, written by David Levithan, sees himself as a lowercase person (and his chapters are written entirely in lowercase). He lives with his single mother, struggles with severe depression and at the beginning of the story, has not yet come out to his friends and family as gay.

“maybe tonight you’re scared of falling, and maybe there’s somebody here or somewhere else you’re thinking about, worrying over, fretting over, trying to figure out if you want to fall, or how and when you’re gonna land, and i gotta tell you, friends, to stop thinking about the landing, because it’s all about falling.”

~ will grayson

They randomly meet one night when their paths converge in downtown Chicago. Will Grayson is shy and struggles with whether or not he wants to be in a relationship. will grayson found love on the internet with Isaac, and is trying to meet him for the first time.

Green’s Will Grayson is kind of geeky and adorable, but it is Levithan’s will grayson I relate to the most. It is will grayson’s storyline that is the most moving. will grayson is dark, and angsty, a bit of a loner, and written extremely well. When will grayson and Tiny Cooper meet, it is everything a reader could want and more. Really, Tiny Cooper is everything a reader could want in a character. I wish I had a Tiny Cooper friend!

Because in reality, so much of this book isn’t about the two Will Grayson’s. It is about Tiny Cooper. For a while I worried that Tiny Cooper would stay flat and clichéd throughout the whole story, but we really got to see more depth to him by the end of the story.

Some people call this book a love story, and it is a love story. A love story about friendship that is both emotional and hilarious.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Mini Review – Saga Vol. 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

I have to admit to my heart not being into writing book reviews for the past few weeks. My life has been quite topsy-turvy this month. I’m currently dealing with all the emotions that followed meeting my biological family for the first time, only to come home to one very sick kitty.

Our older cat, Isabel, has been struggling with a lot of gastrointestinal issues over the last seven days, and has needed a lot of love and attention (as well as multiple trips to our beloved veterinarian, and one stint at the ER vet). We’re currently waiting for the Prednisone to kick in and hopefully help ease the symptoms, as our vet thinks we are dealing with inflammatory bowel disease. If she isn’t any better by Monday, they will probably want to do a biopsy to rule out cancer.

Also on Monday my father will be entering the hospital for a 3-day stay for a heart catheterization after cardiac symptoms recently re-appeared. Hopefully we will know by Monday afternoon if he needs a stent, or another bypass.

Needless to say, this will be a short review!

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2

Author: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrator: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novels, Science Fiction

Marko and Alana’s love story reminds me of an intergalactic Romeo and Juliet. Alana is a soldier from Landfall, a planet this has been at war with the citizens of its moon – Wreath – for…well, for a very, very long time. The Moonies are magic wielding and the Wings are brutally nationalistic and militaristic. Within that context, you have this duo that are so funny and lovable that you can’t help but root for them as they hustle to try to get out of danger and protect their newborn child. They love each other. They argue and bicker, they get on each other’s nerves. But the love they share is pure and true, and is an inspiration, considering their people hate each other’s guts.

Most definitely not for a young audience, you never know quite what you’re going to see when you turn the page. Ghost children/babysitters missing the lower half of their body, Robotic royalty with TV heads, a lie detector cat, torsoless sex workers, there is definitely some odd stuff in this graphic novel series! If Saga were a movie, it would be directed by Quentin Tarantino.

The grandparents come on the scene in Volume 2, and the family dynamic is oh-so-wonderful! In Volume 2, we also get the back story on how Alana and Marko met…it was definitely not instalove.

The narrator in both volumes is their daughter Hazel, which is brilliant. And also a relief, her narration makes it quite clear that she lives at least into young adulthood. You see, one of the main reasons Marko and Alana are being chased is due to Hazel. Her very existence undermines the ongoing war, and defies the odds, as it had been believed that a “Moonie” and a “Wing” could not conceive healthy children together.

The cast of supporting characters are equally interesting: freelancers The Stalk and The Will, Robot Prince IV, Marko’s scorned ex-girlfriend Gwendolyn, and Marko’s parents. It makes for quite an adventurous….Saga.

ARC Book Review – The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

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Title: The Perfect Stranger
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: April 11, 2017
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

About the Book

In the masterful follow-up to the runaway hit All the Missing Girls, a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

Everyone in this rural Pennsylvanian town has something to hide—including Leah herself. How do you uncover the truth when you are busy hiding your own?

Megan Miranda’s latest release, The Perfect Stranger, will make for an excellent beach read this summer. While it doesn’t have the punch of All The Missing Girls, I was still caught up in the story and characters, especially in the second half of the novel. This is a slower-paced thriller, which isn’t for everyone, but really hooked me by the halfway point. I love the quiet, sleepy Pennsylvanian town that Megan created, especially since I grew up in Pennsylvania!

There are quite a few mini-mysteries going on in this novel: what exactly happened in Leah’s past, and the strange mystery surrounding Emmy being the two biggest. While I figured out certain aspects fairly early on, other parts of the mystery definitely caught me off guard twoards the end!

Leah is an interesting character, albeit occasionally annoying, and you really get to know her as the plot progresses. She’s a strong woman that doesn’t give up, and the whole storyline brings up some interesting questions. Does the end justify the means? Can you ever really “start over” somewhere new, in a new life? Kyle, the police officer assigned to Emmy’s missing persons case, is one of the weak links in the story. He seemed to be written to be a likable, good guy….but I wasn’t a fan. I do wish his character had been flushed out a bit more. And then there is Emmy, always in the background, a big question mark that is slowly unraveled.

My absolutely favorite part of The Perfect Stranger was the last chapter! I won’t say anything to spoil the ending,  but it was definitely a perfect way to end the book.

If you like mysteries/thrillers that take place in quiet, sleepy communities that hide their secrets well, you’ll probably enjoy The Perfect Stranger.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Contemporary YA

Kudos to Angie Thomas for writing a debut novel that is so profound and powerful. How to describe The Hate U Give – or THUG, an author-coined acronym for her book? Let’s start with this:

THUG LIFE – “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everyone”. ~Tupac

The title of the novel is taken from Tupac Shakur, and his meaning underlying those words. That what society tells our youth has a way of coming back and affecting all of us. We see that in the protests, and riots against police brutality and police killings of unarmed black men. We see that in the anger and frustration that so many feel.

THUG revolves around Starr Carter, a teen that moves between two worlds: the impoverished neighborhood where she grew up, and the expensive suburban private school that she attends:

I get out of the car. For at least seven hours I don’t have to talk about One-Fifteen. I don’t have to think about Khalil. I just have to be normal Starr at normal Williamson and have a normal day. That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang–if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it–even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood”. Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she’s the “angry black girl”. Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

I can’t stand myself for doing it, but I do it anyway.

When Starr is the only witness to the shooting of her childhood best friend, at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop even though he was doing nothing wrong, she is forced to confront the dichotomy between her two personas.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.

Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.

THUG is an unapologetic – and rightfully so – evocative look into a subject that needs to be torn wide open across the country: the shootings of unarmed black men by police officers. The school to prison pipeline in poor, urban communities. The New Jim Crow era of mass incarceration, the biases institutionalized within the criminal justice system and the policies that control said system. The story is emotionally charged, important, and really, REALLY good.

Putting the important political message aside for a moment, Angie Thomas is a brilliant writer. THUG is incredibly well-written, and the storytelling is so incredibly powerful, not only due to the message, but the sheer intelligence and creative ability of the author. It is very rare that I gush over contemporary YA novels, but here I am! Gushing. In a debut novel, no less!

To go along with the fantastic storytelling is all the wonderful characters that truly made the story shine. Starr is…well, Starr is someone you root for from the very beginning. And her family!! I love when a contemporary YA novel includes a well-flushed out family and Starr’s is one of the best. I love all of the relationships in this book, whether it is between Starr and her parents, or her brother Seven, or her friends. All of the relationships were well-developed and I love how a few of the minor characters really experienced their own growth throughout the story, it is very much an ensemble cast, and they all shine.

Take this conversation between Starr and her Dad:

“Now, think ’bout this,” he says. “How did the drugs even get in our neighborhood? This is a multibillion dollar industry we talking ’bout, baby. That shit is flown into our communities, but I don’t know anybody with a private jet. Do you?

“No.”

“Exactly. Drugs come from somewhere, and they’re destroying our community,” he says. “You got folks like Brenda, who think they need them to survive, and then you got the Khalils, who think they need to sell them to survive. The Brendas can’t get jobs unless they’re clean, and they can’t pay for rehab unless they got jobs. When the Khalils get arrested for selling drugs, they either spend most of their life in prison, another billion-dollar industry, or they have a hard time getting a real job and probably start selling drugs again. That’s the hate they’re giving us, baby, a system designed against us. That’s Thug Life.”

Daddy Carter gave me all the feels in this book. And that is what The Hate U Give does: it breaks your heart, and gives you the warm fuzzies – all in the span of a few pages.

Read this book. No matter where you live – read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin


Title: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Author: Grace Lin
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a rarity in the American children’s fantasy genre: an adventure story set in China. Inspired by various Chinese folktales, this is a story of a young girl named Minli who lives in a poor village at the base of a desolate mountain. In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, the villagers work tirelessly just to put enough food on the table. Minli’s parents work from sunrise to sunset in the rice fields, but her father always makes time for a story or two in the evening, despite Ma’s grumbling.

One day, believing her father’s stories of an Old Man of the Moon and a jade dragon, Minli sets off an extraordinary adventure to travel to Never-Ending Mountain to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family’s fortune can be improved.

One of the things that I loved most about this book was how the folktales seamlessly scattered throughout the text really came to life during the course of Minli’s journey. The stories each connect one to the other as the book progresses, and then further tie in to what Minli experiences. I loved this approach! The accompanying illustrations were absolutely gorgeous. The story as a whole made me want to learn more about Chinese folktales and legends.

It is rare in children’s literature to find both parents alive and well. Kid lit is filled with absent parents and orphan children (Harry Potter, Boxcar Children, James and the Giant Peach, A Series of Unfortunate Events, etc) or children who have lost one parent, either through death or divorce. When a parent is present, they are often clueless or mean. It was refreshing to see some fleshed out parents in this one, and the importance placed on family and the community. In fact, family is one of the major themes of the story. This is not just a story of a young girl finding her place in the world, but it features her mother’s transformation as well. In the beginning, Minli’s mother is discontent with her lot and life, wishing for more food, a more comfortable place to live,  nicer things. During Minli’s absence, her mother’s perspective on life changes completely. As a parent reading it, it makes one think about the impact my unconscious actions – or moods – have on my daughter.

The character’s are all unique and delightful. Her dragon friend is a kind-hearted soul who has a question of his own, why can’t he fly? There is a benevolent king who offers Minli the most sumptuous meal she has ever eaten, and a fierce Green Tiger that is a malevolent force pulled straight out of the folktales. Minli herself has a generous spirit with a healthy dose of independence, and an unshakeable belief in the power of stories.

For those who, like me, want to learn more about folktales from China, here are a few resources shared in the back of the book:

Tales from China (Oxford Myths and Legends) by Cyril Birch.

The Ch’i-lin Purse: A Collection of Ancient Chinese Stories by Linda Fang.

Folk Tales of the West Lake by Various.

Auntie Tigress and Other Favorite Chinese Folk Tales by Gia-Zhen Wang.