Not to be Overlooked
By Gurnish Kaur and Sandhya Christine Theodore
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers a review of The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel and Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados.
The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
Award-winning author for women’s and young adult fiction, Sajni Patel has built a collection of South Asian romances that you will find yourself smiling at while reading.
Recommended by my bookstagram friend @kajalslibrary, The Trouble with Hating You is a classic enemies-to-lovers story with a desi twist. This romance novel follows a dual narrative alternating each chapter between the perspective of our protagonist and their love interest. With the foundation of love and romance, The Trouble with Hating You explores the important issues South Asians face within cultural, familial and religious dynamics. It is heartbreaking to read the generational trauma inflicted by cultural corruption and taboos.
We get introduced to Liya Thakkar a fiery biochemical engineer who has fought for her independence and has always prioritised her happiness despite the constraints of desi culture. The author includes elements of her own upbringing as an Indian Texan to add fire to Liya’s character.
We see a spark of this fire in the opening of the novel when Liya’s parents surprise her with a potential suitor at a family dinner. In the hopes of escaping the talk of marriage, Liya Thakkar runs and happens to run straight into her proposed “suitor” Jayesh Shah, a charming lawyer. Little does she know that this will not be the last time she will see Jayesh Shah.
After the hasty events of Liya and Jay’s first encounter, their impressions of each other formed quickly as well. The anger and frustration of Jayesh being left in the dark and Liya’s stubborn exterior are the cause of their rivalry. This is only fuelled further when Jay, a typical “cocky” and “flashy” lawyer, turns up at Liya’s business to save her company from failing. Liya’s career means a lot more than any rivalry so she agrees to his help. Now Jay and Liya are forced to work together. Their ongoing office feud turns into deep meaningful interactions and they find themselves understanding each other more than anyone else.
This is the first South Asian romance novel I have read and straight from the first sentence, I found myself giggling. The way Sajni Patel incorporates Indian culture, art and food so seamlessly is a very healing experience as a South Asian reader. Seeing ethnic names on a page is so important; my friend Kajal was so happy when reading about a character with her name. The connection with characters through name representation is something so small yet has been overlooked by many writers.
After reading The Trouble with Hating You and discussing it with my friend Kajal we both agreed that reading about a woman building her independence and not settling for less felt reassuring and promising.
Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados
In her debut novel, Granados creates a glamorous yet gritty world. Twenty-one-year-old Isa and her best friend, Gala, spend a summer in New York City with the sole purpose of having the best time possible. Without visas that allow them to work legally, they rely on their charm and wits to survive. The narrative ricochets between their days of near-poverty and struggle and evenings of revelry and shoulder-rubbing with the city’s elites.
Isa and Gala are beautiful, charming young new arrivals to New York who hang out with big names in film, art and more. But instead of desperately trying to build their careers, they are focused on frivolity and pleasure. Unlike most literature about hedonistic party girls, this book is not meant to be a warning. Although they do occasionally experience the negative consequences of their lifestyle, there is no major downward spiral and reformation. Despite being frivolous, this book is not naive. It touches on themes of grief, wealth, race and sexism.
Happy Hour has a brilliant cast of characters. Isa, the narrator, is not an archetypal dumb party girl. Her witty commentary and sharp insights into people and experiences make the book a captivating read. Despite being young, she and Gala are not treated as inexperienced and naive. They have a sort of worldly approach to many aspects of life. The supporting characters who drift in and out of the story build a theatrical yet slightly familiar illustration of the people we meet.
This book captures a nearly universal aspect of early adulthood. The early 20s lack of direction that most people dread, is enthusiastically embraced and painted in vibrant jewel tones. The clean and expressive prose reads like an Eve Babitz-esque work of fictionalised autobiography. No matter what is happening in the story, it seems perpetually bathed in neon lights with Lorde’s Melodrama thrumming in the background. I think Happy Hour could provide some comfort, or at least a sense of solidarity, to anyone feeling a little lost while still being determined to enjoy what they have.