For the tournament I read Caraval by Stepanie Garber and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. Both were titles I was eager to read and had heard great things about, so I was excited to have an excuse to dedicate the time to them.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Caraval is the first book in a fantasy / romance series. It follows Scarlett Dragna, her sister, Tella, and a rogue companion, Julian, as they travel through the magical world of Caraval, a carnival controlled by its master, Legend. Scarlett had been mesmerized with the tales of Caraval spun by her grandmother when she was little, and after years of writing to Legend to attend, she has finally been sent tickets. Only a few days before her impending arranged marriage, Scarlett decides to leave the home of their abusive father and attend the carnival. Shortly upon arriving at Caraval with Julian, Scarlett realizes her sister has been kidnapped, and it appears her disappearance is part of the game. The world-building of Caraval is subtle, taking our own world and making it more magical and lush through descriptive language. Throughout the novel, Scarlett and Julian are met with challenges, puzzles, and magic. The story moves at a fast-pace, with action and mystery propelling the characters and reader forward. Throughout the story, Garber leaves the truth elusive. Details about Julian’s role in Caraval, Scarlett’s fiance, Scarlett and Tella’s grandmother, Legend, and many other details unravel throughout the story, always leaving the reader wondering who to trust and what to believe. As the novel comes to a close, the reader discovers the truths along with Scarlett. The ending of the novel, while tying up loose ends, also reminds the reader of a couple of open storylines in order to set up the next book in the series.
This novel was a fantasy in the vein of many current fantasies: a strong female protagonist searches through a magical world for truths while also entering into a romance with a fellow game-player. While there were a handful of possibly cliche fantasy moments, this book quickly catches its reader up in the whimsical, magical world of Caraval, and nothing else matters. The romance and mystery are sure to propel readers forward to find the truth.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
When Dimple Met Rishi is a contemporary rom-com that follows Dimple and Rishi through the summer after their senior year of high school. Both characters are Indian American, and throughout the story we see both of them struggle to find balance between honoring their parents’ wishes, traditions, and customs and forging their own paths. Dimple is very focused on her education, but her mother seems more interested in Dimple settling down with an I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband). So, when Dimple’s parents agree to send her to the summer coding program at Stanford that she has been dying to attend, Dimple thinks maybe her parents have begun to understand her passion for her education and career. Shortly after Dimple arrives at the summer program she realizes why her parents agreed to send her here: Dimple and Rishi’s parents have arranged for the two to meet in hopes that they will be a suitable couple. While Dimple and Rishi’s relationship starts off rocky, as with many contemporary romances, the couple begins to find common ground and a swoon-worthy romance blossoms. Dimple helps Rishi understand the importance of breaking from family tradition to pursue what he wants (comic book design), while Rishi helps Dimple understand that her family does have her best interests at heart. The couple does come up against the formulaic struggles, but we are left with a happy ending. Throughout the novel, while we do get a rather insta-love story, we also see a good dose of healthy communication. Dimple is also a rather strong and smart female protagonist. And the exploration of the balance of family and personal desires at such a pivotal point in one’s life is very relevant.
Overall, this is a perfect choice for a teen looking for a lighthearted contemporary romance. It hits all the right marks for the genre. While it does touch on more serious issues, at its heart is is a romantic comedy that follows the formula.
It was a really hard decision between these two books, as I enjoyed them both, and I feel they would appeal to different readers, but, my winner is…
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
While I am a sucker for a contemporary romance, and I absolutely loved reading a rom-com with diverse characters, I ultimately think Caraval would be more widely appealing for current teen readers. The fast-pace, suspenseful plot, and magical world all sucked me in early on, and I think the same would be true for many readers.
Noelle Spicher is an Adult and Teen Focus Librarian at Lisle Library District in Illinois.