When Dimple Met Rishi: A Review

What happens if you meet the exact right person for you at the exactly wrong time?

Dimple Shah wants to go to Stanford, focus on coding, and start her career. She would like to go to Insomnia Con this summer before she starts college to participate in the coding competition and possibly meet her idol Jenny Lindt.

Dimple isn’t interested in clothes, contacts, or makeup. She definitely doesn’t want a relationship or an “Ideal Indian Husband”–not right now and possibly not ever. When her parents agree to pay for Dimple to attend Insomnia Con, it feels like maybe they’re both finally understanding who Dimple is and embracing her dreams and ambitions.

Then again, maybe not.

Rishi Patel knows that it’s up to him to follow tradition and respect his parents’ wishes. It’s possible that Rishi isn’t passionate about engineering or MIT but he knows he should stick to the responsible and safe choice.

Rishi is a romantic but he also wants a solid partnership in the future. He trusts his parents when they try to set up an arranged marriage with the daughter of family friends. It should be simple. Rishi can even meet her at Insomnia Con and woo her. It will be perfect.

Or will it?

Dimple and Rishi figure each other out pretty quickly. They have nothing in common. They want different things. But they also make each other laugh and might be able to help each other be their best selves–if they can just give each other a chance–in When Dimple Met Rishi (2017) by Sandhya Menon.

When Dimple Met Rishi is Menon’s debut novel.

Menon’s writing is filled with evocative descriptions of San Francisco over the course of the three weeks Dimple and Rishi spend there for Insomnia Con. Dimple and Rishi’s relationship plays out against this backdrop of coding and competition along with a few side plots involving Dimple’s roommate Cecelia and Rishi’s younger brother Ashish.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet romantic comedy with a lighthearted premise but it doesn’t stop there. Dimple and Rishi are both first generation Indian-Americans (their parents immigrated from India) and they are dealing with it in different ways. Dimple rails against traditions and values that seem determined to relegate women to successful marriages and not much else; she wants to make her own way in the world and she isn’t sure it matters if that goes against her parents’ expectations. Rishi revels in being part of such an old and amazing culture; he places so much value on traditions that he’s willing to sacrifice his own dreams because of them.

Although Dimple and Rishi are both eighteen they read young and feel like authentic teens facing big changes as summer ends and college approaches. Slow pacing toward the middle and some contrivances near the end of the book do little to diminish this enjoyable story. When Dimple Met Rishi is a thoughtful, clever read. A satisfying story about two teens who manage to find a lot to appreciate (including themselves) once they find each other. Highly recommended and guaranteed to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksKaidu and Rat are still recovering after stopping the assassination of the General of All Blades. In the wake of the assassination, the Nameless City seems peaceful and there is reason to hope things will stay that way.

The General of All Blades and Kaidu’s father are working to create a council of all the nations that claim the City as their home to stop the constant fighting to claim the City as territory. But not everyone supports the idea of a council and its promise to change the Dao way of life in the city forever.

As conflict begins to fracture the Dao nation from within, Kaidu discovers a formula for a powerful weapon–a secret that has been protected for generations and something Rat might be able to decipher. Sharing the formula with the Dao could mean giving the City’s current conquerors a dangerous edge. Hiding it could make peace even harder to achieve. Kai and Rat already did the unthinkable by becoming friends and saving the General of All Blades. Will they be able to do it again to bring peace to the City before its too late? in The Stone Heart (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.

The Stone Heart picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of The Nameless City bringing readers back to the City that Rat calls home and the place Kai is coming to care about.

Hicks uses the relative calm at the beginning of this installment to expand the world of the City as Rat shows Kai more of her world and introduces her to several new characters. This expanded view helps to bring the City into clearer focus and situates the story within the larger context of the world Hicks has created based on thirteenth century China (as mentioned in an author’s note which talks a bit about her research process). Hicks’ full-color artwork is as stunning as ever and once again brings Kai and Rat’s story vividly to life.

When the uneasy truce that Kai and Rat helped bring to fruition falls apart spectacularly,  the story moves in an unexpected direction and new villains emerge. Will Kai and Rat be able to save the City? Will the mysterious formula Kai and Rat found fall into the wrong hands? Readers will have to wait for trilogy’s exciting conclusion to see how everything comes together. Recommended for readers looking for a new comic adventure and those who enjoy their adventure served with a side of strong-but-unlikely friendships.

*An advance copy of this review was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

American Street: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola’s aunt and cousins and begin their own version of the American dream. Instead her mother is detained by ICE at a New Jersey facility where she faces deportation back to Haiti. Fabiola, born in the United States, has to fly to Detroit on her own.

In Detroit Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with her relatives at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.

Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn’t sure that Papa Legba’s riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself grab their own small piece of American joy? How far would you go for the same thing? in American Street (2017) by Ibi Zoboi.

American Street is Zoboi’s debut novel.

This novel is the story of one girl’s efforts to grab onto the American dream for herself and her mother, it’s the story of a family and the secrets they keep to survive, it’s a story about the immigrant experience, it’s a story of first love. All of these stories play out against the larger story of the house at the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit.

Fabiola thinks transitioning to life in the US will be easy. She already speaks English and she attended an American school in Haiti. None of that prepares her for the meanness she finds on some of Detroit’s streets not to mention the slang and fast-paced language. She expects her American relatives will follow Haitian traditions but is surprised to find her aunt barely leaves her bedroom. Fabiola’s cousins are equally mystifying. Chantal studies hard and is working her way through community college. But what about her mysterious phone calls? Princess only answers to Pri and dresses like a boy. Then there’s beautiful Primadonna “Donna” who wears her beauty like armor and fools no one as she tries to hide the extent of her turbulent (and violent) relationship with her boyfriend.

This story is also imbued with an element of magic realism. Fabiola is a faithful and devout practioner of Vodou. She and her mother have spent years praying for their relatives to be well in the US. When she arrives in Detroit, one of the first things Fabiola does is assemble her altar and pray for her reunion with her mother. Throughout American Street Fabiola uses her familiarity with Vodou and her iwas–spirit guides–to make sense of her new life in America. Fabiola’s choice to interpret her strange new world in this way takes on a weightier meaning when she begins to see her iwas in the real life figures around her.

Zoboi demonstrates a considerable ear for voice with dialog as well as short segments between chapters in which various characters relate the stories that brought them to this point. Fabiola’s first person narration in the rest of the novel is beautiful with a measured cadence and a unique perspective that comes from spending her formative years in Haiti.

American Street is a timely and thoughtfully written novel. Fabiola’s introduction to America is authentic and filled with moments of beauty as she also finds new friends and falls in love for the first time. The happenings on the corner of American Street and Joy Road add a mystery to this rich plot and help the story unfold to a heartening but bittersweet conclusion. A must read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This weekend I read American Street by Ibi Zoboi and it should definitely be on your radar. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola's aunt and cousins. But her mother is detained by ICE at a facility in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone. Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with family at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. 🔮 Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn't sure that Papa Legba's riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her side. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself become American and grab their own small piece of joy? How far would you go for the same thing? 🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #americanstreet

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The Sun is Also a Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Because everything looks like chaos up close. Daniel thinks it’s a matter of scale. If you pull back far enough and wait for long enough, then order emerges.”

“Maybe their universe is just taking longer to form.”

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonNatasha believes in science and facts. Her life doesn’t have room for fate or destiny. Which is why it’s so hard to hope for a miracle on her last day in New York City. Natasha’s family is going to be deported to Jamaica in twelve hours. Natasha doesn’t believe in long shots but it’s the only shot she has left to try and stay in the city that’s been her home since she was a child. She doesn’t have time to waste meeting a cute boy and maybe falling in love with him. Not when she is so busy trying to balance her practical nature with her hopes for some last-minute magic.

Daniel is used to being a good son. Not the best son because that’s always been his older brother. But solidly second best. Except now his brother screwed up big time and Daniel’s parents are pinning their hopes for having a Successful-Ivy-League-Graduate-Doctor in the family on Daniel. The problem is that Daniel wants to be a poet–something his Korean immigrant parents can’t understand. At. All. Daniel believes in poetry and fate which is why he knows the moment he sees Natasha on the street in Times Square that their lives are about the change forever.

It feels like the universe or fate or something Big is conspiring to bring Natasha and Daniel into each others’ lives. But over the course of a day filled with possibility, neither Natasha nor Daniel is sure if that will be enough to keep them together in The Sun is Also a Star (2016) by Nicola Yoon.

The Sun is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel. It was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has received six starred reviews. (UPDATE:) The Sun is Also a Star also received an honor for the 2017 Printz Award.

All of that is impressive on its own but it’s also important to remember that we often hold contemporary romances like this one up to a higher standard when considering them for awards based on literary merit which makes this book stand out even more as both an exemplar of contemporary romance at its best and also as a generally excellent book.

The Sun is Also a Star is set over the course of one day but the plot is more far-reaching with interconnecting narratives and characters related to each other by six (or even fewer) degrees of separation.

The majority of the novel alternates between Natasha and Daniel’s first person narrations with their distinct voices and world views. Other chapters follow characters who are key to bringing Daniel and Natasha together including a depressed security guard, a subway conductor who has found god, and even Natasha and Daniel’s parents–all chronicled as brief histories. This shifting story maintains a consistent and deliberate voice thanks to the omniscient narrator whose sections contrast well with Natasha’s pragmatic nature and Daniel’s classic dreamer outlook in their respective narrations.

This thoughtful story also nicely subverts some of the traditional gender roles found in contemporary romances. Natasha is an unapologetically smart girl who works hard and knows that life isn’t fair. She is jaded and ambitious. Daniel, meanwhile, is a genuinely nice and optimistic boy who believes in the power of fate even while learning how to make his own choices and stand by them.

Everything in The Sun is Also a Star refers back–sometimes subtly and sometimes not–to the idea of love being a driving force in the universe. All of the tangential characters whose actions work to bring Natasha and Daniel together through happenstance or fate are working on some basis of love–the train conductor who has found god and loves life, the security guard who is lonely and mired in her own lack of love both from others and for herself, the attorney and his paralegal. It’s all love in one form or another. Even Natasha’s father and his actions are driven by his conflict between his love for his family and his love of performing.

Yoon does so many things in The Sun is Also a Star and she does them all well, while making it seem effortless with a combination of literary prose and a deceptively sleek plot. This book juggles multiple characters, narratives, and plot threads to create a coherent story about the many factors bringing Natasha and Daniel together as well as those which are conspiring to keep them apart. It evokes an authentic New York City setting not just a shiny tourist one but the dingy parts too. The Sun is Also a Star does all of that while offering an intellectually stimulating story that still manages to be upbeat and romantic. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Cloudwish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloudwish by Fiona WoodVân Uoc is used to walking a tightrope between her Vietnamese immigrant parents’ expectations for her to become a financially secure doctor and her own dreams of becoming an artist.

During a creative writing class Vân Uoc could have wished for less schoolwork as she works to maintain her scholarship to her fancy private school. She could have wished for her parents to talk more about the PTSD her mother has struggled with since they emigrated from Vietnam. But she doesn’t. Instead Vân Uoc wishes for Billy Gardiner to find her fascinating and like her more than any other girls.

When Vân Uoc‘s wish impossibly (magically?) comes trues, she doesn’t know what to think. She isn’t used to finding magic in her world and she isn’t sure if she should ignore it or embrace this strange bit of wonder while it lasts.

As Vân Uoc and Billy get to know each other, Vân Uoc realizes there’s more to her longtime crush than she expected. As she confronts the possibility that her wish came true (or even stranger that it didn’t), Vân Uoc realizes that there might be more to her than everyone expects too in Cloudwish (2016) by Fiona Wood.

Cloudwish is Wood’s third novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife although it functions as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

Before discussing anything else about Cloudwish it’s important to note that Fiona Wood is a white Australian author writing about a Vietnamese-Australian heroine. Wood has clearly done her research and had Vietnamese readers look at her novel, but as some reviews (notably Kirkus) have pointed out, some of the cultural elements in this novel do not ring true. I can’t speak to any of that and, for me, it did not detract from the books merits. But it’s worth keeping in mind while reading.

Like many children of immigrant parents, Vân Uoc faces added responsibility at home where she acts as interpreter and caregiver making sure her mother takes the medication she has been prescribed for her PTSD.

Vân Uoc‘s parents have struggled and saved to make sure that Vân Uoc has advantages that were never a possibility for them in Vietnam. They don’t talk about their struggles or their harrowing flight from Vietnam because it’s the past and things are better now. They’ve survived. Compared to their struggles, Vân Uoc‘s own difficulties with mean girls at school and her relatively low social status seem trivial.

When Vân Uoc inexplicably attracts Billy Gardiner’s attention, she doesn’t know what to think. Her school friends worry that Billy is going to hurt her when he inevitably loses interest. She and her best friend Jess wonder if Vân Uoc could possibly be the subject of a long-term joke Billy is planning. But Vân Uoc has no experience with boys and Jess is a self-prescribed “lesbian-in-waiting” so neither of them are sure.

As Billy starts following her around, Vân Uoc wonders if her crush was misplaced. Billy is certainly attractive and funny. But he also has a habit of making mean-spirited jokes and a complete lack of awareness when it comes to his own privilege–something Vân Uoc has no problem pointing out to him.

While contemplating the possibility of her wish being granted and of Billy genuinely liking her, Vân Uoc also begins to reassess her life choices in other areas with an eye toward her literary idol, Jane Eyre. As Vân Uoc embraces Billy’s attentions and her own dreams for a larger life beyond studying and waiting for college.

Cloudwish is a thoughtful and meditative novel that contemplates both the everyday and the place (and possibility) of magic in the real world. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The Nameless City: A Graphic Novel Review

The Nameless City by Faith Erin HicksThe City has many names. Every time a new nation invades, they give the city a new name. Only the natives know that the city is impossible to keep and name. They call it the Nameless City.

The latest group of invaders, the Dao, have held the Nameless City for close to thirty years–longer than anyone else. Kaidu is a Dao who comes to the City to meet his father and to learn more about his own people. Kaidu isn’t sure he’s cut out to join the Dao’s military guard but he does know that he loves everything about the City he is now calling home.

Rat is a native of the City, one of the Named who call this place home regardless of its name or who currently claims it. She hates the Dao and everything they stand for as occupiers of her home. But in spite of herself, Rat starts to like Kaidu as he trades her food in exchange for lessons on how to run across the City’s rooftops.

Kaidu and Rat are unlikely friends. Unlikelier still, they might hold the City’s future in their hands in The Nameless City (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Nameless City is the first comic in a proposed trilogy.

Following both Kaidu and Rat, The Nameless City thoughtfully explores the thornier aspects of colonialism as part of the City’s larger story. The City is populated by a diverse group of people comprised of natives as well as the many conquering nations. The tension between these groups is nearly palpable as Hicks moves the story toward a climactic conclusion.

This larger arc contrasts well with the smaller but more charming story of Kaidu and Rat’s fledgling friendship. Witty, thoughtful dialogue and carefully drawn illustrations work together here to convey the two protagonists’ complex and changing relationship.

Faith Erin Hicks delivers another stunner with The Nameless City. Her signature illustration style and a unique premise come together to create a delightfully engrossing story. Great for veteran comics fans and readers eager to try the format for the first time.

Dream Things True: A Review

Dream Things True by Marie MarquardtAlma is less than happy to be leaving her academically challenging high school in Atlanta to return to the small town of Gilbertson to help take care of her cousins. She always thought Atlanta was her ticket to something better. Now, Alma isn’t sure how she’ll get out of Gilbertson and away from her overbearing father. She just knows she has to try. Alma’s brother let his status as an undocumented Mexican immigrant keep him away from his dreams. Alma refuses to make the same mistake.

Evan has never had to think much about immigration. He’s never had to think about a lot thanks to his family’s wealth and privilege. Like Alma, Evan’s family wants to keep him close but Evan knows college is his chance to get away before he settles for the life his distant father has planned.

When Alma and Evan meet, their attraction is immediate and undeniable. Despite their different lives and other obstacles, the unlikely couple falls in love. But with family pulling them in different directions and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids threatening Alma and her friends and family, Evan and Alma will have to work harder than ever to be together in Dream Things True (2015) by Marie Marquardt.

Dream Things True is Marquardt’s first novel. Marquardt has done extensive work with an advocating for Mexican immigrants as outlined in her author bio. The story is written in a close third person point of view that alternates between Evan and Alma’s focus.

Dream Things True does some things very well. It is an important and timely novel about immigration. It is a diverse title, of course. And, despite the numerous challenges they have to deal with, this book also has a really healthy and positive relationship as Evan and Alma get to know each other and try to help each other.

There is a lot of good stuff here and Dream Things True is undoubtedly a valuable novel. However it’s also worth noting that it often felt like the portrayals of non-white characters could have been handled better. Evan compares Alma’s skintone to coffee with cream in it. An African-American character is described as being lighter skinned. Evan’s descriptions of Alma often seemed to portray her as more other and exotic perhaps in a misguided attempt on Marquardt’s part to create an authentic male protagonist, perhaps for other reasons. Regardless of intent, it’s the one aspect of this novel that repeatedly grated.

In order to keep the focus of the novel on immigration issues, several plot points in Dream Things True feel contrived in order to move the plot along. While Alma’s father is convincingly problematic, even his logic for why Alma has to return to Gilberston from Atlanta is murky at best. While this focus makes sense, it often made the characters and settings feel one-dimensional by comparison.

An ideal choice for readers looking for a light romance that still has some depth, Dream Things True is a thoughtful novel that proves Marquardt is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, A Step From Heaven by An Na, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

* A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*