YA Fest continues with My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. I have been doing YA Fest for only two years now, and even though I had five Fridays to work with, choosing which books made it in was difficult. I chose today's novel because of the intriguing storyline and my love for characters who have a singular obsession that they are committed to, even though those around them may not understand it, or even be all that supportive.
The Situation: Vaneeta "Winnie" Mehta loves Bollywood movies. She keeps a blog where she reviews them; is co-president of the film club at The Princeton Academy for the Arts and Sciences where she attends high school; is determined to chair the annual film festival; and up until a few weeks ago, was convinced she found her Bollywood move-style happily ever after romance in Raj. Winnie had always been told that she would meet her soul mate before the age of 18 - a boy whose name started with the letter 'R,' and who would give her a silver bracelet - and Raj fit all of the necessary criteria. But something changed, namely the fact that Winnie returned from a summer at film camp to find out that Raj had hooked up with another girl. Now Winnie is determined to find her own destiny since the one that she always believed in has seemingly turned against her.
The Problem: Winnie's senior year is already off to a rocky start with Raj's betrayal, but then she finds out that the film club has a new faculty advisor, and one that is intent on enforcing a rule that would remove Winnie as chair of the film festival, a position she needs for her application to NYU's film program. And then there is Dev, a guy that was there before Winnie and Raj began dating, and has now made a welcome reappearance. While Winnie may be ready to move on from Raj, her mother and grandmother are still holding onto the prophecy. With near-constant warnings that fighting destiny only ends in disaster, Winnie wonders if giving up on Raj means giving up on her happily ever after. Or will it be enough to simply follow her heart and hope that everything works out?
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in and around Princeton, New Jersey during Winnie's senior year of high school. Written from the third-person omniscient point of view, the story follows Winnie as she deals with an ugly break-up, does her best to fulfill her film club duties, bites her tongue around her family, and also works through these new feelings she has for Dev. Every chapter begins with a short review of a Bollywood film from Winnie's blog, and she is able to relate almost every situation in her life to a moment or scenario from one of her favorite movies. She even begins to dream about one of Bollywood's biggest stars, Shah Rukh Khan, in strange settings as he gives her cryptic and cosmic advice. The only subject that rivals the mention of Bollywood movies is that of destiny and fate, as Winnie constantly struggles between going with what she has always believed, or trying to forge her own path, even if that means potentially making a massive mistake. It is the ever-present destiny vs free will debate, and Winnie draws on her propensity for high drama as she navigates it.
My Verdict: This book is pure fun. And drama. But the good kind of drama that is mostly fun. At the beginning I thought there was a good chance that Winnie was going to grate on my nerves, but then Dev saved the day by quickly and astutely pointing out to her that she has absolutely no common sense. After this assurance that I was not the only one who thought this about our heroine, things immediately got better. Winnie is smart, ambitious, and determined, but also silly and dramatic. And while I know next to nothing about Bollywood, I was not lost in the constant references. If anything, I was left with an admiration for Winnie's obsession and her ability to defend it against anyone who dared to say a bad thing about it. And while Winnie is her own brand of delightful, the supporting cast of characters are not bad either, even the villains. Are there some ridiculous moments? Oh sure. But even the massive Bollywood dance scene (yes, there is one) will have most cynics smiling.
Favorite Moment: Naturally, the massive Bollywood dance scene.
Favorite Character: Winnie's best friend Bridget is incredibly patient and supportive. For me, Winnie would be hard to keep up with, but Bridget manages without being a complete enabler.
Recommended Reading: Both From Twinkle, with Love and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon seem obvious, but I'm going to go with it anyway.