Sandhya Menon, a writer of romantic comedies for young adults, doesn’t quibble with the stereotype of Indian-American parents as being overly involved in their children’s lives. Rather, her books wonder whether that’s such a bad thing. In her debut, 2017’s New York Times best-selling When Dimple Met Rishi, a pair of college-bound Indian-Americans have a meet-cute thanks to their meddling moms and dads.
The parental matchmaking continues in Menon’s third book, There’s Something About Sweetie, which will be published on May 14. And while the puppy love is real in her novels, Menon—who lives in Monument with her husband and two children—also tackles issues of greater gravity, such as discrimination and safe, consensual sex. Before the release of Sweetie, 5280 sat down with Menon to talk Bollywood, Meg Ryan, and, of course, her love life.
Name: Sandhya Menon
Occupation: Young-adult fiction author
5280: You came to the United States as a teenager. What was the transition like?
Sandhya Menon: I had no exposure to American culture at all. Then we moved from Bombay to South Carolina. This was the late ’90s, so there was a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric there. That’s when I really got into writing. People often didn’t understand what I said, because of my accent, but they understood what I wrote.
You love Bollywood movies. Why?
They’re very dramatic. They all have at least five or six songs as part of the narrative. They’ll just suddenly start dancing. It’s completely bizarre—and really addicting. I grew up on those. I think that’s why I like romantic comedies, because they all have romance.
When did you become interested in American rom-coms?
I was 15 and had just moved to South Carolina. I had no friends, so I would read a lot and watch Meg Ryan romances constantly.
What’s your favorite?
You’ve Got Mail, probably. That one and Sleepless In Seattle are kind of tied. I know everyone is like, Oh, they’re not diverse. They’re misogynistic. I still love them.
Your books aren’t misogynistic—though many think arranged relationships are. Why make them the central plot points of Dimple and Sweetie?
Because there’s so much crap in Western media about arranged marriages. The dude is old and creepy. The girl is very young and just a pawn for her father and her husband. My marriage wasn’t, but a lot of my family is arranged. And that’s not what I was seeing. I was seeing a lot of well-matched marriages, where the parents put a lot of thought and love and care into selecting these people. I wanted to show the other side of it. Parents are given a bad rap. Their life experiences are worth a lot.
Did your parents ever set you up?
No, I met my husband in high school so they didn’t get the chance. I preempted them.
Aw. How did you meet him?
I asked my husband, “What’s the first thing you noticed about me?” He said, “I saw you in math class and thought, Her eyes are too big.” Super romantic. I do remember he challenged me to an arm-wrestling match. That was him flirting. Actually, though, teens love that story. They’re like, Yeah! Everybody tells us high school relationships don’t last! Mostly they don’t. I hate to be that adult who’s like, Do it! So I try to be judicious sharing that information.
Your books are YA, but they’re a little risqué. Like there’s a scene where Rishi and Dimple, uh…
They do it.
Exactly. Thanks. Why include that scene?
My editor and I talked about it. This is a sex-positive scene, with issues of consent and protection. Many in the South Asian community don’t have the sex talk with their kids. We felt it was really important to have that because it was the first Indian-American rom-com coming out in YA. We felt this responsibility to present sex in a good way.