My recent read of Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating got me in the mood for another little contemporary romance. Plus, I was getting ready to go on vacation and knew I was going to want a lighter read for the plane…and poolside. I hadn’t really heard of this one, but it was on a “recent releases” shelf at my library and looked like an interesting and diverse twist on what one normally sees in this genre.
“Not everyone is brave enough to be themselves.”
Raina is fast approaching 30 and, after finally (maybe) getting over a terrible break-up, she caves to her grandmother’s wishes and agrees to try a more traditional, arranged, approach to dating/marriage. And so, her grandmother creates the titular list of eligible men. But as Raina starts to talk to the men on her grandmother’s list, she meets another guy…a meeting that doesn’t go very well (at least at first). And then, her ex comes back into town, which completely messes with her emotions and causes her to make an admission that affects every aspect of her life and the relationships she has with her friends, grandmother, and community at large.
This book had all the elements of a solid contemporary romance, including a recent break-up, good (realistically simultaneously supportive and competitive) friendships, a hella awkward meet-cute, lots of hemming and hawing on the part of the protagonist as to what she wants/who the “right” guy is and a bunch of misunderstandings that could have been easily avoided with a little better communication. So, basically, it is definitely what I was looking for. And in this case, the cultural insights that we get into the Indian immigrant/“expat” community (in Canada), and the way arranged marriages work in the “modern” world, was actually really interesting. I appreciated the way the author explores it in a way that is accessible and even-handed, exploring both the advantages and disadvantages, as well as how it has evolved over time. The way she describes it now, it really doesn’t seem that much different than using a dating site or setting up a friend with another friend…which is pretty much done/accepted universally. I mean, I understand that this is coming from just a single perspective/experience (what I assume is the writer’s own, being an Indian immigrant to Canada herself). Regardless, it was still educational for me, since this is nothing like my own experience(s), and a wonderful way to help a wider audience understand what this much condescended to tradition looks like “present day” for at least some people. Relatedly, there was a lot of other exploration of the way more “traditional” cultures are modifying beliefs, etc. to adjust realities of the modern world. Topics like dating/marrying outside one’s religion and/or race, as well as acceptance of the LGBTQ community, were also dealt with as major parts of the story. And again, the author did a great job presenting a balanced view of the traditional Indian community – how some members are more/less accepting of these differences than others. Which, despite the negative feels of the greater world towards all similarly insular/traditional communities about how they treat these issues, is absolutely not exclusive to them. So, I liked seeing how that played out interpersonally/inter-communitarily as well.
On the other hand, there were definitely some things I was not as into. The main thing, for me, was that I did not like Raina’s character. She was whiney and clingy and self-centered and judgmental and really lacked any kind of inner/personal strength. And, while I totally can find reasons for all of that based on her background and circumstances, that didn’t make me enjoy reading her any more. It’s too bad, since the entire story was about her. Also, I really got frustrated with how much stupid/condescending/unhealthy stuff she put up with from essentially every guy in this story that wasn’t “the” guy. And, not to try and give anything away (though, let’s be honest, this is a rom-com, not a thriller and you can see the “twist” and who she is “meant to be” with coming from a mile away), she manages to overlook a ton of bull**** from every single guy except the one “good” one. She judges the crap out of him. Now, again, I see how her background would lead her to act that way, but still. It’s crazy inconsistent on her part and it annoyed me. Related to her character, but also a commentary on the writing, I felt like there was just way too much repetitive rhetorical introspection from Raina, throughout the novel. There were a couple inner argument/thought trains about what she really wanted/letting her grandmother down/following the normal path of marriage and family, etc. that I think I read like, six or seven times. So with that, and the above-mentioned traits, I just didn’t identify with her lack of self-awareness/knowledge/confidence at all (with one exception – I definitely understand, as I think we all can within our own experiences, the struggle with living up to familial expectations). The one other thing I want to mention is that I was really iffy on the way the being LGBTQ was used as a plot device in this novel. It allowed for the great cultural insight that I said I enjoyed, which was a plus. And it definitely wasn’t taken lightly/as a joke…the negative ripples the situation created for a number of relationships were fully portrayed (and the partial positives as well, I suppose). I just cannot decide, honestly, if the overall use sits ok with me or not. I’m still undecided, honestly, and I finished the book days ago.
Overall, the cultural insight really added extra depth to this otherwise very typical contemporary romance. Also, and even though this meant that I was annoyed by Raina for a large chunk of the book, I did really love the end message about not losing yourself to/for love. That’s such an important point and I am here for it. I feel like this would be a great contemporary romance for a book club, because it has all the light/fluffy relationship aspects, while providing some deeper issues that beg for further discussion. Final thoughts: a nice, quick, easy read with a little extra “something,” but nothing especially extraordinary.