There's Something About Sweetie
In this delightful but slightly flawed sequel to her When Dimple Met Rishi, Sandhya Menon takes us into the love life of Rishi’s basketball-playing hotshot brother, Ashish and his new girlfriend, the determined Sweetie.
Self-proclaimed player Ashish Patel is grumpy about love. That’s understandable, because since the conclusion of When Dimple Met Rishi, he and his first serious girlfriend Celia have broken up because she cheated. It’s been three months, but Ashish’s self-confidence and effortless smoothness with the ladies of Richmond Academy haven’t recovered from the blow. When his parents say they can find him a better girlfriend, Ashish dares them to set him up on a date.
Enter Sweetie Nair, the second-fastest high school runner in the state of California, who lacks social courage in spite of her athletic accomplishments. Her Amma is critical of Sweetie’s weight and pressures her to lose it, rejecting Sweetie’s tentative attempts at feeling proud about her form and following her own sense of style.
When Sweetie sees a picture of Ashish in the local paper and becomes intrigued as much by the air of sadness that seems to surround him as by his handsome face, she asks her mother for help making a connection. Thanks to the efforts of a grapevined network of friendly aunties, Sweetie has lunch with Ashish’s Amma and aunt and meets with their approval, but her own auntie and mother bristle at the idea of Sweetie being with Ashish – at least until Sweetie loses more weight. A frustrated Sweetie decides to take matters into her own hands, and invites Ashish on a date behind their families’ backs. They like one another enough to continue the relationship, and when Ashish’s mom and dad find out that their secret meeting was a big hit, they agree to support the quasi-romance and tell Sweetie’s parents about it later. Ashish’s parents also get Ashish to commit to four more dates with Sweetie on one condition – they get to choose the times and places.
The forming not-quite-relationship between the pair encourages mutual growth – Sweetie toward being bolder and more confident (she nicknames this the Sassy Sweetie Project) and Ashish tries to shed his playboy image and adjust to the more sedate and less sex-driven pace of this new courtship. But the new couple has a lot to contend with, from Ashish’s fear of emotional commitment to the looming shadow of Celia. Will a misunderstanding ruin everything?
There is indeed Something about Sweetie, and that something is magic. Though a few problems keep me from ranking this above the flawless From Twinkle with Love it’s definitely well worth reading.
Our two leads are entertaining, heart-tugging and memorable. Ashish is kind and funny – and arrogant, but his arrogance is hilarious! I laughed my way through the majority of his sections; his relationship with his mother is great, and his general personality from Dimple is intact.
Sweetie’s plot brings some emotional tenderness and thought-provoking emotion to the table. The book’s exploration of the fatphobia that haunts but doesn’t define her life is portrayed realistically and sometimes brutally, but Sweetie ultimately triumphs over it. Her mother, who constantly refers to Sweetie’s body shape and who is, herself, rail thin but constantly on a diet, thinks she’s protecting her daughter from ridicule, but this only leaves Sweetie feeling like an unsupported disgrace. Amma experiences her own triumph when she finally calls out her sister about the way she’s always putting Sweetie down. It’s an emotionally truthful character choice that’s realistically handled, and might hit a raw place in the hearts of its readers. Particularly painful was this bit of yearning from Sweetie:
Because! I’m like this now ! Sweetie wanted to say. Why are you always saying you’ll like future me, thin me, better? Why can’t you just like me how I am?
I love that Sweetie finds strength in Aretha Franklin’s music, in herself – her big move from singing alone in the shower to fronting a band onstage was inspiring and heroic. She’s smart and brave and lively; a different kind of heroine from outspoken Dimple and artistic Twinkle, and just as good.
The romance was a little heavy on insta-love for my taste, but you can’t argue with the power of a big, cinematic first kiss at a Holi festival. I liked how much Sweetie and Ashish respected each other’s talents and they’re a genuinely complementary pair with nice chemistry and a good rapport.
But the romance only garnishes the beauty of the book in general. There were many solid side characters. Ashish’s friends reappear and are amusing and absorbing; I liked the roller coaster background relationship between wise Oliver and pervy Elijah, and I sincerely hope Pinky Kumar gets her own book at some point! And someone else I want more of is Ashish’s cousin, the smug Samir, with whom he frequently clashes. Sweetie has a trio of friends of her own who are enjoyable and funny, though I found Kayla’s tendency to use made-up exclamations to get around swearing because her parents keep docking her allowance for doing so both realistic for a teenager and somewhat irritating.
The book has two weak points. The first is the way it handles Celia and Ashish’s break-up and the second is the book’s descent into a weak final act misunderstanding plot.
The former has stirred up a little controversy within the book’s fandom, and I can’t blame fans of When Dimple Met Rishi for being a little upset about it. While I found it realistic for two teenagers to drift apart over distance and Menon doesn’t villainize Celia, it’s hard to rationalize what we know of the earlier Celia with this character choice.
Yet even with its flaws, Menon delivers a beautiful book filled with plausible teenagers doing teenagery things. Though it doesn’t rise to the lofty heights of From Twinkle with Love, There’s Something About Sweetie is compulsively readable, and should find a welcome spot on any teen’s bookshelf.