I recently read to novels that would be considered read-a-likes on a bookstore shelf. (You know the shelf-talkers that tell you if you like X-book, you’ll also enjoy y-book.) Both appeared to have similar goals, even similar protagonists, but both addressed a key characterization point in a ver different manner: the protagonist’s passion.
The first book I read of the two was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I saw this book on many summer reading lists last year and thought it sounded like a fun storyline. Dimple is a recent high-school grad who has just been accepted to a prestigious summer coding camp. She is shocked when her conservative Indian parents agree to let her attend. What she doesn’t know is that her parents have coordinated with another couple to arrange a marriage between Dimple and their son, Rishi, who is also attending the same camp.
The book is a light romantic comedy and was, on the whole, a fun summer read. But I was a little put off and couldn’t figure out why.
That is until I encountered My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. In this YA novel, Winnie, a aspiring film-maker and Bollywood-enthusiast finds her life-plan completely derailed. She was given a prophecy at birth describing her true love, but her high-school boyfriend who matched the description to a T has cheated on her, not to mention her aspirations to run the student film festival are looking a little rocky.
The book is filled with fleshed-out, quirky and lovable characters, and is tinged with a little magical-realism. (Also, full disclosure: I may have stocked my Netflix queue with a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan movies after reading this)
But why did I have such a stronger reaction to My So-Called Bollywood Life over When Dimple Met Rishi? I would have thought that I would have related more to Dimple with her experience in code over Winnie’s expansive Bollywood knowledge. But Sharma did something in My So-Called Bollywood Life that I didn’t experience in Dimple’s world. I got to learn things about film that I didn’t already know. I never even got to experience Dimple coding. Not once.
Both novel’s have themes of appreciating family and culture, exploring one’s future, and pursuing dreams whole-heartedly. But I think the last theme was done more effectively in My So-Called Bollywood Life.
As writers, if we want to encourage young women to pursue fields that are usually dominated by men, by placing a young female protagonist in that field, we ourselves, must show an interest in that field.
For Dimple, I felt the effort of her story was cheapened by a lack of attention put in to understand coding or how that may fulfill the female protagonist.despite the entire book taking place at a coding camp, there is never any coding happening in the book. We never get to experience Dimple in action and how that makes her feel.
On the other hand, we do get to experience Rishi’s passion—drawing— and how that makes him feel. For a book targeted to young women, I certainly felt an inequity here. In some ways, I thought there was more importance placed on pursuing a relationship with a boy than fulfilling a life calling or dream.
Sharma let us experience was it felt like for Winnie to splice film and talk about equipment. Was I able to totally understand as a non-filmmaker? Not entirely, but I did believe that Winnie understood and I got to feel a little bit of what her passion awakened in her.
Menon’s second novel was released this summer has a female filmmaker protagonist. I have not read From Twinkle, with Love, but I hope she was able to take a queue from Sharma and show young women what it is to live into your passion realistically.
What about you? Have you read My So-Called Bollywood Life or When Dimple Met Rishi? What did you think? What books do you think demonstrate the importance of pursuing a passion? What authors have you read that demonstrate a character’s passion well?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Until then, keep on reading!