Serena Singh Flips the Script
Serena Singh Flips the Script is a tale about the joy, sorrow, laughter and tears that relationships bring to our lives. It’s a sweet, funny, occasionally insightful story, that will remind you what a blessing good friends are.
Serena Singh has finally reached one of her big career goals. It hasn’t been easy. The advertising industry, especially in Washington D.C., is still very much a sexist boys’ club and Serena has put up with bosses taking credit for her work, co-workers speaking to (and of) her in truly disparaging ways and she’s been passed over for a hard-earned promotion more than once because she’s a woman. That’s finally over now though, and she is creative director at the popular Deborah Kim agency.
Serena quickly comes to realize however, that landing your dream job doesn’t mean you’ll instantly start living your best life. Her subordinates, especially a woman she nicknames Ginger Spice, treat her with cool hostility and her recently married sister is ignoring her in favor of bonding with her in-laws. Worst of all, Serena disconcertingly realizes that she is down to zero friends. Her new work colleagues have no desire to socialize with her, her former associates want nothing to do with her now that she’s left their company, and her old high school and college friends are all married with children and too busy to hang out. She has no problem finding guys to casually hook up with – her latest squeeze is the lovely Beckett who, like her, doesn’t seem to want anything serious – but making friends is a challenge for her.
Like any good Type- A personality Serena decides to tackle the issue head on. She joins book clubs, cooking classes and friend apps in order to meet new people. The results, of course, are disastrous. The first new ‘friend’ she meets for coffee turns out to be a teenager looking for an internship. Serena winds up at a sex club instead of a dinner club. Even the book club is calamitous and she finds herself being asked to leave. Expanding her social circle would be a complete disaster except for two fortuitous events. A fellow executive from another department named Ainsley invites Serena out for tea and the two instantly bond. And then, Serena runs into her ex Jesse and they agree it’s time to actually start living up to their agreement to remain friends. With two new buds, a fantastic job and a great boyfriend Serena should be perfectly happy. So why does she feel like everything is coming unraveled?
Easily the best part of the book is the author’s tender, discerning look at how tough adult friending can be for a lot of folks, and Serena’s discovery that life changes have meant losing connections to people whom she relied on socially and emotionally is very relatable. Her struggle to find the time between work, family, and boyfriend to make needed girlfriends is also completely understandable. I loved going on her awkward, frequently embarrassing, sometimes silly journey to making new ‘peeps’. I also appreciated how the author made Ainsley, her new bestie, someone very different from Serena. It would have been easy to have Serena fit perfectly with a carbon copy of herself but Ainsley makes Serena rethink her life and priorities while still allowing her to appreciate where she is and what she’s accomplished. We should all be so lucky in our friendships.
The author also takes a good look at how family relationships change as we age. Serena has remained in D.C. in large part to stay close to her parents and sister, but the bonds she has with them are far from ideal. She feels like her parents judge her for not being a good Indian girl focused on marriage and tradition, as well as feeling that her little sister takes advantage of her – a lot. As the story progresses we slowly learn why each character has behaved the way they have, some tears are shed, some truths are told and eventually, honest, new connections are built that allow their family to go from just being close in proximity to being close emotionally as well.
Ms. Lalli does a lovely job of making her characters very three dimensional and true to life. Ainsley especially is beautifully drawn – warm, brash, funny, outspoken, kind, down to earth, and smart, she’s exactly what Serena needs in a friend. Adding to the charm is Ainsley’s lovely husband Nikesh, who welcomes Serena into their little family circle and thus shows her how equitable a marriage between true partners can be. Serena feels her father treated the women of his household with disrespect, and watching Ainsley and Nikesh interact helps her internalize that her parents’ relationship doesn’t have to be a blueprint for her own.
Women’s fiction is meant to tap into the hopes, fears, and dreams of women today. It’s meant to be fun and realistic while addressing issues relating to the modern female experience. Serena Singh Flips the Script does all of that perfectly; It’s clear that the author understands her genre and audience and does an excellent job of meeting brand expectations.
I did have a few quibbles though. Women’s fiction doesn’t guarantee HEAs but this story has one at the very end. To avoid spoilers I won’t name the hero, but the problem with the romance is that the author never really develops it; the love interest is peripheral to the tale until almost the last few chapters of the book, and the love story needed a lot more development to justify its inclusion in the book as a result.
The only other flaw in the work is that Serena starts the story as a bit of a prickly, selfish mess, and while she gains some emotional awareness – realizing that heartfelt forgiveness is a needed component of any relationship, for example – she definitely still needs growth in this department when we leave her. Because the issue isn’t just her being able to forgive people for past mistakes and learning to accept others into her life, warts and all; the big problem is her learning to see that insisting on living life on her own terms has meant she has little regard for what other people want. Several key scenes with her mother and Becket – as well as how she treats her partner in a cooking class – really highlight this problem. Her lack of personal insight would have been fine and understandable in the tale of a younger woman but Serena is almost forty years old and should have learned this lesson about a decade or so earlier.
This isn’t a flaw in the story but an alert to sensitive readers: past spousal abuse is mentioned in the story. None of the scenes depicted are graphic, it all takes place many years earlier but for those sensitive to the issue you should know this tale includes it.
Serena’s lack of self-awareness was a bit irritating but this novel is a lovely look at grown up friendships and connections. I would recommend Serena Singh Flips the Script to anyone looking for a quick, fun read about modern adulting.