Desert Isle Keeper
From Twinkle, with Love
In From Twinkle, with Love, the follow up to the charming When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon crafts another winning protagonist and another compelling story for young readers, who will surely find a little bit of themselves mirrored in the delightful Twinkle.
Lively aspiring director Twinkle Mehra spends her free time writing admiring letters to her favorite female filmmakers in which she spills her dreams, fears and desires. A whole year younger than most of her classmates, Twinkle is poised to enter the summer bereft of the friendship of her longtime BFF Maddie Tanaka, who’s been absorbed into rich girl Hannah Macintosh’s popular clique (codename: silk feathered hats). This leaves unpopular and poor self-described ‘groundling’ Twinkle behind much of the time due to Hannah’s possessiveness of the members of her clique. The somewhat awkward Twinkle often finds herself observing events at her school from the sidelines – the confidence with which she expresses herself in her letters and diary rarely transposing itself into the real world because she, in her words, lacks the ‘courage gland’ possessed by others in her family.
As the school year ends, she’s approached by Maddie, who suggests Twinkle make a movie for Midsummer Night, her school’s biggest academic event, and one that could pave the way for Twinkle’s upcoming post-graduation life. Twinkle is filled with anxiety at the thought; she’s only ever made movies for her YouTube account, which has exactly seven subscribers, and several of those are her tech-unsavvy, new-age-y Dadi. Their conversation is overheard by fellow classmate – film geek, film club member and critic Sahil Roy – who offers to oversee the critical aspect of the project, and unbeknownst to Twinkle, has his own motives for wanting to help her. On saying yes, she achieves two aspects of her long-ago set personal manifesto – she gets to make a movie and gets to be closer to jockish trainee Olympian Neil, who happens to be Sahil’s twin brother – and on whom she’s been crushing on for ages.
Sahil helps her form an idea – a gender-swapped take on Dracula – and they cast Maddie as the lead. Just as the movie begins production, a mysterious admirer, “N”, starts emailing Twinkle. She’s a hundred percent sure that it’s Neil – who must simply be too shy to approach her in real life and explain how he feels. Unfortunately for Twinkle, the more time she spends on the set, the harder she falls for Sahil, all the while being completely oblivious to his crush on her.
Caught between loving two brothers, trying to deal with cultural conflicts at home and getting her movie cast and produced all the while getting her econ grade up with the help of the school’s genius hacker, Brij Nath and, most importantly, figuring out who “N” is, Twinkle’s life is anything but boring. But will she manage to make her dreams come true? And when she’s given the opportunity to expose the school on film, will she hold true to her art or get revenge on those who made her unpopular?
Whelp, I loved From Twinkle, with Love. I think my only real quibbles with the book as a whole are that less film-astute teens might not get Twinkle’s movie references and the second-act Big Misunderstanding is a hair too clichéd. Otherwise it’s a delightful ride through the art of moviemaking and the original life of a truly entertaining main character.
I knew from the first page I was going to love Twinkle. What an exuberant voice! She’s flawed and fun and realistically self-centered, bursting into life as a realistically formed teenage character. She feels incredibly real, and her shyness when contrasted with her drive and her desire to ascend the ranks of popularity makes her feel more three dimensional.
The supporting characters are just as good – I liked Sahil’s dryer, more reserved behavior, which makes a nice contrast with Twinkle’s barely-restrained narrative intensity, and I also liked that his boldness – like Twinkle’s – comes out in the form of blog writing. I’m a little less fond of the deceptive nature with which he initially approaches their shared film production; there is a level of manipulation between them that hallmarks the relationship for the first few chapters, but once they start to get to know one another, that notion disappears.
The contrast between Twinkle’s very grounded relationship with Sahil and the pie-in-the-sky idol worship she has for Neil works very well. Neil is, however, rather distant towards Twinkle, which makes their prospective romance pretty clearly moot.
The contrast between Maddie’s tightly planned, more practical personality and Twinkle’s looser way of seeing the future is smartly handled; while Maddie is hoping to become a doctor, Twinkle sort of hopes she’ll go to film school. Kind of. I could relate well to Maddie, caught as she is between the popular and the unpopular and two different groups of friends and trying to please everyone at the same time. I will say that I didn’t expect Twinkle’s intense feelings about Maddie to comprise so much of the narrative, but I’m glad it did. Also bonus points to Menon for making Hannah and the other girls in the popular clique sympathetic and well-rounded.
The Brij subplot is perhaps one of the books’ weakest spots. I thought Brij was an interesting character, his involvement in the movie and Twinkle’s math struggles interesting – but as a romantic foil for Maddie he doesn’t really make sense, something Twinkle actually observes.
Menon’s prose is lively and hilarious; it feels very teenaged – frantic, emotional, observant, and funny. The diary entry format in which Twinkle addresses the events of her life to various famous female directors is sweet.
Twinkle’s family is another of the story’s assets. Menon does a great job capturing Desi culture and the flavor of a family that’s tried to Americanize itself but kept their roots intact and somewhat traditional. I liked the contrast between Twinkle’s household and Sahil and Neil’s, the conflict between Twinkle and her hard-working, remote mother, the closer relationship to her distracted dad; the emotionally intimate one she had with her loving Dadi was absolute tops.
As for the mystery of “N”, it’s perhaps a bit too obvious to the reader, but still provides the right amount of narrative tension.
From Twinkle, with Love is nearly guaranteed to brighten the summer of your teen or tween-aged relative. I especially recommend it to aspiring filmmakers; may Twinkle’s brightness encourage them to soar