I think there was some mistake made in the fact that the first book I read by Sandhya Menon was There’s Something About Sweetie. While I’ve heard a many great things about this author in the past, I’ve found that her latest book fell incredibly short of expectations, despite how utterly promising the premise of this book initially sounded. Ultimately, by the time I finished this book I was left feeling annoyed and disappointed despite all my best efforts to enjoy the reading. And I really, really wanted to like There’s Something About Sweetie. Unfortunately, what I found instead was a book with a lot of potential that was trying far too hard to accomplish its goals. And it is that effort of trying too hard that really ended up ruining the entire novel.
There’s Something About Sweetie is a story about a young Indian American boy, Ashish, whose heart has just been broken and whose parents believe he is turning his back on his heritage and a young Indian American girl called Sweetie who is, to put it simply, not thin and has to deal with the fallout of her mother’s insistence that she is unhealthy, will get made fun of, and needs to lose weight and how, when Ashish turns to his parents to help him through the heartbreak by finding him someone to date, the two build a relationship. Basically, it’s a love story between teenagers.
Now, I can certainly appreciate a teenage romance. I’m not generally incredibly fond of them when the romance is the entire focal point of the story, but I’ve found several over the years that I’ve enjoyed. What really turned this particular romance into one of annoyance and frustration was the level of cheesiness that was portrayed throughout and the utter lack of realism behind the characters. To begin, Sweetie was always frustratingly “all-knowing” in the sense that she somehow magically could give a quick wise speech to another character, whether it was Ashish or his friend Oliver, and change their minds almost entirely. In fact, literally all of Ashish’s development came at the hand of some sage-like advice from his parent-chosen girlfriend. All Sweetie ever had to do was offer a differing opinion on a comment he made and suddenly every belief and personality quirk Ashish had was instantly changed. One comment and his growth became magically exponential. And it was just simply ridiculous. Character development like that takes time and needs to be portrayed in such a way, otherwise the characters are not believable in the slightest.
The degree of insta-love that existed in this novel was frustrating and, quite frankly, rather gross. The word love was thrown around so quickly in retrospect to how long the characters had been dating. And when the book tries to present this relationship as one that is going to last and result in a marriage, it left me with nothing more than to roll my eyes far too many times. Three dates and about a month of dating is not long enough to suddenly have fallen in love with someone.
I don’t read romance novels for a reason and a lot of that has to do the excessive amount that the characters talk about how attracted they are to each other, regularly referencing their bodies and beauty. It’s a realistic aspect to teenage life and life in general, but I don’t want it in the books I read because I don’t enjoy reading it. I also think, largely, we put an excessive amount of attention on looks and reading about characters who regularly think to themselves something along the lines of, “I am so lucky, such and such is SO gorgeous” annoys the heck out of me. It’s not necessarily wrong and I know others enjoy reading these kinds of books, but for me it was excessive and irritating.
And finally, perhaps the most unfortunate of instances in which the novel was trying so hard to send a message, but failed entirely because of how the message was portrayed lies in Sweetie’s struggle against her mother regarding her weight. The purpose of this comes from a good place, to show that weight is not an indicator of worth or beauty and we definitely need more books to portray this fact. It was one of the reasons why I was so excited when I was approved for this ARC. But unfortunately, despite best attempts, the issue of weight really was not properly addressed. With a goal of bringing to light the problems with fat shaming, the book isolates anyone of larger weight whose lifestyle is not active. Instead of supporting the message that weight does not determine your worth, the book muddles it by suggesting that weight does not determine one’s worth when coupled alongside that person being the fastest runner on their track team. In fact, Sweetie even asks Ashish to meet up with her so she can show off her athletic prowess as a way to prove to him that her size doesn’t have an effect on whether or not she is worthy of him, suggesting that if Sweetie weren’t the fastest runner on her track team she would have no way to prove herself worthy. And that message is just not okay.
Now, this isn’t to say that the entire novel is horrible. There were some things I genuinely and deeply enjoyed, particularly that surrounding Ashish’s friends. The representation of a gay couple, both on the basketball team, and the home-schooled teen who struggled to fit in with the group, but eventually was able to work through the problems of his behavior were really great additions to the novel. The conversation that Sweetie had with her mom at the end of the novel was nice as well.
Overall, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book. The good pieces were minor subplots and hardly took up any of the novel as it was instead focused on Sweetie and Ashish, two characters I just couldn’t get past my frustrations with. From the issues with insta-love, poor character development, and, though seemingly coming from a good place, an unfortunate take on issues of weight There’s Something About Sweetie had a lot of problems.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.