Ashish Patel's heart is broken, and he's lost his mojo. The world is no longer a place to play and enjoy. His game is off both on the basketball court and with girls. Frustrated and annoyed at his parents for being smug and thinking they can do a better job finding him a girlfriend, he challenges them to do it. He will date who they set him up with and prove once and for all that they are wrong about knowing him and what he wants. The girl his mother chooses is Sweetie Nair. Sweetie is a stellar student, a good Indian daughter, and a phenomenal track star whose prowess in running shoes is going to win her a full scholarship to college. She is also fat. Her mother will not consent to setting her up with Ashish for this reason. Once Sweetie loses some weight, she can have a boyfriend. Infuriated and hurt, Sweetie takes matters into her own hands and contacts Ashish. After Sweetie completely annihilates him in a race and blinds him with her fierce determination and smile, Ashish is willing to go along with whatever is necessary to see her again. Once his parents find out about them meeting, what is necessary is a series of dates arranged and sanctioned by his parents and a contract promising they will tell Sweetie's parents about their relationship prior to the fourth date. Ashish loves spending time with Sweetie (even if it involves the temple and trips to visit his eccentric great aunt) but fears his heart is still compromised even if every other part of him is super into her. Sweetie just wants to prove to her mother it is possible to be happily fulfilled and fat at the same time. However, the more time she spends with Ashish, the less their relationship becomes about proving something to her mother. Figuring out exactly what they want from each other teaches them both a lot about themselves and their relationships with those they care for most.
Sweetie is amazing. There is no getting around the fact that this book may the most appropriately titled Menon book yet. Her personality jumps off the page. She may also be the most idealistic female lead Menon has written yet. She is deeply empathetic and therefore compassionate and can see the many sides to people's motivations and actions. She is loving, forgiving, smart, and funny. That doesn't mean she is perfect, but her flaws don't exactly jump out at you either. She is easy to like and root for from page one. Ashish is a hot mess. Readers of When Dimple Met Rishi may barely recognize him as the same person he was then. And it's because he is not. Celia sort of wrecked him in a lot of ways. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because Ashish grows and learns a lot about himself as a result. He is still slightly cocky and full of energy, but he grows to appreciate his culture and family a lot more. He learns how to be still and appreciate it at times. The scenes with the Ashish and Sweetie together are so wonderful. They really have a connection that is both physical attraction and understanding of each other. It's an excellent romance where both leads have issues but are also so great together that you just want to smoosh their faces together, but also knock at least one of them (usually Ashish) upside the head at the same time for being an unseeing moron. It's good stuff.
Like any good romance, it's not just a romance though. It's a story about character and growth. A lot of that is tied in with the secondary characters, particularly the parents. One thing I love about Menon's books is how she delves into parent child relationships. All three of her novels so far hit hard on the tensions inherent in relationships between mothers and their teen daughters. Each of those has been different and carried different issues with it. In Sweetie's case, her mother is naturally thin. Sweetie is not. Her mom makes her run every day after school and severely monitors Sweetie's diet despite the fact that Sweetie is a phenomenally successful athlete who already gets plenty of exercise. To Sweetie, fat isn't a bad word. It's a descriptive one. She knows she's fat. And yes, people concern trolling her weight in the comments section of articles about her athletic prowess online bothers her, but she isn't letting anyone else define her by just that. This is where she finds the motivation to approach Ashish. She is deeply hurt that her mother, who should love her no matter what, seems to be embarrassed by her. Her mother seems to believe Sweetie is somehow lacking and can't be her full self until she loses some untold amount of weight. Sweetie isn't lacking anything and just wants to be loved for who she is. In this book, we also get to see a lot of Ashish's parents (who are EXCELLENT). Ahsish's mother might be one of my favorite YA adults ever. His father is a bit more distant and seems less reasonable, but that is because teenage sons and their fathers also have complicated relationships (especially when you add in the cultural conflict of one of them being first generation American). We see a lot more of them in this book then we did in Rishi's story, and it's great. A lot of Ashish's insecurities come from his constantly comparing himself to his brother and thinking his parents are doing the same thing and finding him less than. Seeing him work through that and realizing what he has in his parents is heart-warming.
This book contains a large cast of secondary characters and all of them are great. Both Ashish and Sweetie have tight friend groups with diverse personalities and backgrounds. How in such a short book Menon wrote all of these characters that feel like real people with depth and an interesting, fun plot is a marvel. I said this in my review about From Twinkle, With Love, but she remains consistent, so it bears repeating. Menon writes teens authentically. This is part of the reason I want so many of my peers to read her books. Hey fellow moms, read this and see things from their perspectives and maybe chill on a few things. Anyways, I love all the friends. But I mostly want to talk about Celia. It would have been really easy for her to be turned into the evil nemesis in this story despite the fact that if readers have read When Dimple Met Rishi, they already know her. But she's just Celia. Celia who still has a lot to learn and ways to grow. She is young. She made mistakes, and by the end she owns them. A lot of her actions are fueled by fear of the unknown and not really knowing what to do with herself. I really liked how the whole concept of a former relationship and its effects were touched on. There was a bit of drama in the end over it, but it made sense to me how that happened and I like the way it was resolved.
Bottom line: Read this. Read all of Menon's books. And know there is another one coming to look forward to. It comes out next year, is called 10 Things I Hate About Pinky, features two characters introduced in this book, and has a fake dating plot. (I am so excited!!!!)