The Heart of a Story: There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

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I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon is. Menon is a fabulous writer whose voice, writing skills, and characterization are perfect for YA Romance. Her books are lit with the joy of living the best life you can, despite the trials and tribulations that come your way. Life is not all doom and gloom — there is always something positive to hope for and a joyous welcome when it comes along.

Sweetie Nair is a Malayali-Indian-American girl, who’s a star track athlete at Piedmont High. She’s also crafty and talented in making decorative boxes and arrangements for her mother’s famous Indian sweets business. Her squad of three multicultural friends have been close for a number of years and share a talent for making music together. Despite her immense gifts, Sweetie has been dogged for years by fatphobia from people who think she is less than them because of the way she looks. She is not at all ashamed of her body — in fact, she is proud of her athletic prowess — but she is deeply hurt by her mother’s attitude towards it. Amma‘s one purpose in life is for Sweetie to lose weight so she thinks she will be acceptable to society and dateable.

Ashish Patel is an Indian-American boy, who’s a star basketball player at Richmond, a prep school for the über rich. He and his group of three multicultural friends have been close since grade school, and I thoroughly enjoyed how their personalities meshed and differed. Ashish is recovering from the loss of his girlfriend, who cheated on him. He had been in love with her, despite their differences in experiences and personalities, and he has now lost his mojo and confidence in his dealings with girls and on the basketball court. 

Just as Sweetie finds Ashish jaw-droppingly attractive, Ashish finds Sweetie incredibly hot and incredibly cute. And in his acceptance of all of her, she finally finds peace and confidence in who she is. The Sassy Sweetie Project is now in full swing. She plans on finally taking charge of her life instead of being blown in the wind of opinions like a tumbleweed.

In Sweetie, Ashish finally finds peace within himself and the encouragement that he is wonderful exactly as he is and has the wherewithal to offer his heart to a girl and commit to a long-term relationship. Since Sweetie had been introduced to him by his parents, his flourishing relationship with her finds their approval, and in so doing, he finally feels like he is not the black sheep of the family, but a valued son, just like his bhaiyya, older brother.

The characters in There’s Something About Sweetie fairly leap off the page as people with complex personalities and deep cultural roots. With a light but sure touch, Menon paints the Indian-American immigrant culture with authenticity and sensitivity. The parents’ emotional connections with their families, their expectations of their children, the choices and freedoms and restrictions they allow their children are all wrapped up in how they grew up in India and how their adult lives are shaped by America.

How Indian an Indian-American is varies from family to family and person to person. While both Ashish and Sweetie are Americans first, they are also Indian. Sweetie has embraced her ethnicity, while Ashish has been distant from it. Being with Sweetie brings him home to his culture. Watching Sweetie so at ease and accepting of her Hinduism and being in the temple, he allows her serenity and light to enter his heart.  

There was surprising comfort in being around his family’s religious culture…like being in a place that inherently understood him and one in which he could be still and be himself.

This is pure poetry from Menon. Ashish realizes that he isn’t caught between the two cultures, but rather that he inhabits both — they are both integral parts of him — and this finally grounds him into the surety of his being.

Ashish’s character had me in gusts of laughter on a regular basis. Sweetie is all kindness, positivity, and joyfulness even while she labors under the oppressiveness of fatphobia from her mother, the media, and random strangers. Even when there were emotional moments in the story that brought a lump to my throat, Ashish and Sweetie’s resilience in how they dealt with their issues ensured that a laugh was just around the corner.

As I mentioned in my review from a couple of weeks ago, I have delighted in discovering all these lovely words in books that I have had to translate and Google. Menon explains some of them, but the rest I had to look up or ask around, which I had fun doing.

There’s Something About Sweetie follows the story of the brother of the hero of Menon’s hugely successful début When Dimple Met Rishi. While this story is standalone, your enjoyment of the development of Ashish’s character will be enhanced by reading the previous book.

I am confident that this book is one you will read again and again and will be a mainstay of your keeper shelf.

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