NPR Review: 'There's Something About Sweetie,' By Sandhya MenonSandhya Menon's followup to her hit young adult novel When Dimple Met Rishi follows a young woman with a big voice, a big personality — and to her family's dismay (though not her own), a big body.
My friend Chris happened upon me reading There's Something About Sweetie in a coffee shop and introduced her presence by laughing. "For a second, I thought that was you on the cover," she said.
I flipped back to look at it. It's true: The cover model has my same coloring, the same giant smile and nose crinkle — heck, even the same teeth. She radiates joy. It took a moment for the concept to sink in. I've been an avid reader since I was three, and I've been plus-sized since I was a teen. I've recognized pieces of myself in thousands of literary characters over the years, but until now, I had never actually seen myself on a book cover.
Wow, I thought. So this is what that feels like. Kind of amazing, really.
Sweetie Nair and I have plenty of differences too: She's Indian American, an exceptional athlete, and can sing like a pro. She's a big girl with a big personality; she knows it, and she's okay with it. Which is good, because her mother has enough hang-ups about Sweetie's weight for the both of them. So much so that when Sunita Patel comes along and offers up her youngest son Ashish (brother of Rishi, from When Dimple Met Rishi) as a dating prospect, Vidya Nair turns her down. Because Sweetie should really wait until she's thinner to date someone. They wouldn't want to give this boy (who is clearly out of her daughter's league) the impression that Sweetie is desperate, or easy.
You might be outraged right now on Sweetie's behalf. So was I, after I read that scene. So was Sweetie. In a surprisingly bold move, Sweetie hunts down Ashish's number, meets him at the track, and challenges him to a race. At which point she promptly leaves the hot basketball star in her dust. Ashish is so smitten from that moment on that he devises a plan (with his parents' blessing) for the two of them to date in secret. Sweetie agrees, reluctantly, and signs the contract that Ashish's parents write up for four prescribed dates. From this strange, dry seed, a delightfully charming love story blossoms.
Desi culture is strong in this book, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to delve deeper into things like Indian American naming conventions, birthday traditions, and familial relationships. Sweetie's mother's fatphobia isn't just a heavy-handed device to move the story along, it's woven into the structure of who Sweetie is as a person, what's expected of her (and what she expects from herself), and how much she truly values and respects her parents in her life.
If I was struck by anything in this book, it's how incredibly insightful and reasonable the characters were — not only the teenagers, but the adults as well. Menon's characters handle integral decisions (like the dating contract) logically, and with an eye for possible repercussions. Sweetie, Ashish, and their friends may be quick to react passionately, but they just as quickly come to surprisingly rational conclusions. And the extent to which Ashish trusts his parents to set him up, and more — well, let's just say that's a level of maturity I've seen in very few people outside of a book's pages.
Sandhya Menon definitely hits it out of the ballpark again with There's Something About Sweetie, crafting a rich, intricate story about two young characters you can't help but fall in love with. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, especially fans of her previous books — and every young woman who might recognize herself on the cover. Also, if Kartik and Sunita Patel ever decide to open a matchmaking business, sign me up!
Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.