Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

**This book was provided to me through NetGalley for review purposes!**

What it's about:
     This story follows our main character, Winnie Mehta, through a break-up with the guy she *thought* was supposed to be her soulmate--as in Raj, the guy with an "R" name who she would meet before her 18th birthday and who gave her the prophesied silver bangle bracelet that would prove his love and devotion.  Yes, I said PROPHESIED. 

You can't fight a prophecy, right?!?

    But when things go south in their "perfect" relationship, it starts to bleed over to the rest of their lives, including the film club that she and Raj "co-president", and which runs a film festival every year.  A film festival that Winne NEEDS to be part of if she wants to fulfill her dream of attending the NYU Film School.  

    Well, as you can imagine, interesting and....unexpected things begin to happen from there on out.

What I thought:

     Firstly, a disclaimer: if I relate closely to anyone in this book, it'd be Winnie's bff, Bridget.  I am a blonde-haired, blue eyed girl of Scandinavian ancestry--pretty much as far as you can get from any of the cultures of India or its geographical neighbors.
     But man, do I like...*really* love Bollywood movies.  I don't even remember the first one I saw, but I was in middle school, and after that, I was instantly a fan. I get that a lot of them are super cheesy, and like...nobody in real life breaks out into perfectly choreographed song and dance numbers, but they span a *ton* of themes and can be both super entertaining and also very powerful, sometimes all at once.

(Side note: this is from Lagaan, one of my all-time FAVORITES. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend! Sure, it's 3 hours long, but it's got history and drama and romance and it will give you ALL THE FEELS.)
    A second disclaimer: the setting of this book ABSOLUTELY affected the way I read it.  My grandparents lived in Princeton, NJ for almost my entire childhood and I spent a LOT of time there during holidays and summer breaks.  Being able to recognize landmarks and places in a book, even though their names were changed? Weird for me, but also super fun.  Like...the theater Rose Theater is based on? I probably walked by that place like 5738 times as a kid.  And the ice cream place, Robert's Sweets? Totally not the real place, but it *is* very close in name.
     Strangely enough, Princeton is also the place where I first saw a movie mentioned in this book: Bend It Like Beckham, directed by someone who shows up in this story: Gurinder Chadha.  The previously mentioned Nana brought me to the movies to see it, then I promptly went to the bookstore (again, in Princeton) to buy the soundtrack, which I still listen to to this day.

     But I digress.  Back to the actual reason you may be here: the book! (Though if you're enjoying my trip down memory lane, yay! And thanks for putting up with me.)

     This book is a contemporary YA romance mixed with a bit of a "finding your true self" story all wrapped up in a package filled with Bollywood references and dreams of Shah Rukh Khan (which *totally* makes me want to have a dream with him in it. It'd be so amusing).

This is Shah Rukh Khan. He is an absolute GEM.

       Since there's a prophecy involved, and we know its contents pretty much right off the bat, it's kind of easy to assume that the plot would take one of two directions.  The headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants to control her own destiny and succeeds, thus disproving the prophecy, or.....the headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants and tries to control her own destiny, but in doing so, ends up with a self-fulfilling prophecy instead.
      However, it's how we go through Winnie's journey with her that's the fun part.  All at once, you're both hoping she finds the true soulmate of the prophecy by the end of the book and also rooting her on for wanting to just ignore silly superstitions and make her own way in the world.  

     The secondary characters were well-thought out and likeable, though my pet-peeve of adult characters not JUST LISTENING to younger people in important situations did show up (I don't know about you, but the adults I grew up around didn't write off EVERYTHING I SAID as nonsense or teen drama. I'm not sure if I was just lucky, or if this is just really not realistic).  Even the Ex, Raj, was a fairly enjoyable character by the end.  Also, I'm not going to go into particulars, but...Dev.

     I also found Winnie's struggles with the expectations surrounding her to be pretty realistic.  I mean, if my entire family was obsessed with some random prophecy about my love life, I'd get a bit annoyed/stressed out about it as well. Then when things go wrong with the guy you thought was "the One" since childhood, I mean--no wonder she's got kind of a complex about this whole bit of divination.  

     Overall, I don't think you need to be a fan of/knowledgeable about Bollywood in order to read this book (It does add to the enjoyment, but I don't think it's necessary).  It's a solid story that I think will satisfy many types of readers!

Rating:  4 stars.

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