REVIEW: There's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

4.5/5 stars — a joyful celebration of fat acceptance paired with a cute romance

In this companion novel to When Dimple Met Rishi, a pair of Indian-American teens are determined to date in spite of obstacles from one family and well-meaning but often frustrating help from the other. The two main characters, Sweetie Nair and Ashish Patel, are star athletes at their schools, but that’s where the similarities end. There’s Something About Sweetie puts a few fresh twists on well-loved romance tropes. The result is a story that’s simultaneously timeless and current. I love that Sweetie is a beautiful, athletic, fat main character. The narrative does a great job of dismantling a lot of the arguments that come up in real life whenever fat positivity is mentioned (or even when fatphobic people see a fat person being comfortable in their own skin). It discusses how it’s possible to be healthy and fat, how fat-shaming definitely doesn’t help someone lose weight, and how fat people seeing other fat people loving themselves and living happily doesn’t glamorize fatness or encourage them to stay fat. Sweetie confronts external fatphobia—from her family and from society—but she also interrogates her own internalized body image issues and how they've held her back from living life to the fullest. While I adored Sweetie as a character, it took me a while to like Ashish. He comes across as so cocky at the beginning of the book that he’s kind of annoying. Eventually, it becomes clear some of his boasting is a defense mechanism against perceiving himself as his parents’ least favorite son, while some is down to his recent separation from his most serious girlfriend to date. Meeting and interacting with Sweetie also tempers his behavior. While Ashish is obnoxious at times, he's ultimately compelling as a character. I really enjoyed that he was emotionally open with his friend group, even exchanging “I love yous” with them. In romance-focused stories, the main characters’ relationship—chemistry, ability to communicate, handling of obstacles—makes or breaks the book for me. Ashish and Sweetie are one of the best fictional couples I’ve read, teen or adult. They add value and happiness to each other’s lives, and when confronted with challenges, they talk them out. (And for anyone who hates miscommunication as a plot device as much as I do, there’s one brief instance, but it’s cleared up right away. Phew!) To wrap up, a few standouts tidbits and miscellanies:

  • this cuteness as Ashish thinks about Sweetie: “She was everything he’d never wanted but had to have. She was everything. Period.”

  • a personal thing: I’m only conversant in a tiny fraction of Bollywood cinematography and the songs and actors in the films, but a) I’m disappointed Sheila Ki Jawani isn’t considered as much of a bop as I think it is, and b) vindicated that my old crush on Hrithik Roshan is a more common phenomenon.

  • the tropes in play were super fun: super-rich love interest, arranged marriage dating, secret relationship, etc.

  • a nice break from opposites-attract—Sweetie and Ashish have a lot in common, including their love of sports and their outgoing nature. (Sweetie’s shy at times, but her “Sassy Sweetie Project” for self-improvement works so well she’s practically an extrovert by the end of the book

  • the MCs’ parents, who are all super different but supportive in their own ways, even if it takes some of them a while to show it properly. Sandhya Menon’s books are always brimful of steamy-sweet romance, complex families, and supportive friends. They bring serious issues to the fore without flinching—and also without making the tribulations of heartbreak and life’s more minor dramas seem trivial. There’s Something About Sweetie is a wonderful book I’d recommend highly to readers who enjoy romance-heavy contemporary novels. Although it’s intended for young adults, it has cross-category adult appeal. Also, I adored the narration for the audiobook, aside from slang/text abbreviations (omg, bamf, etc.) that felt a tiny bit behind the times in the book itself and stuck out even more in the audio version. I still highly recommend the audiobook, though! That’s a very minor detail. Content warnings: Fatphobia (challenged), extensive discussion of body image issues (internal and societal), food shaming. Please, if you have a history of body image issues or may be triggered by a reading about parent or relative fat-shaming someone, be sure you’re in a solid headspace before reading this. The eventual message/outcome is positive, but it’s rough for a while.