I picked this one up on a whim and I am so glad that I did; From Twinkle, With Love was an absolute delight.
Sandhya Menon’s debut, When Dimple Met Rishi, got wonderful reviews last year, so I heard some buzz leading up to this, her second novel. I’ll have to add Dimple to my ever-growing TBR, because Menon’s style is so readable and engaging and honest. Such a joy to read.
Twinkle is retreading some pretty familiar territory in the world of high school romance. Twinkle Mehra is on the bottom rung of her school’s social ladder… and she is very aware of that. She dreams of becoming a more outgoing, popular, “shiny” version of herself that will be seen and understood—partially for reasons of vanity and teenage neediness, but also because of her passion for filmmaking. If she dates the gorgeous, well-liked Neil Roy, reunites with her newly-distant best friend, and figures out to speak up for herself, she’ll be ready to go from small-time YouTuber to world-famous director. Twinkle wants to share her stories with the world, inspire other girls, and prove to everyone what a poor, Indian, female director can do. She has the talent; all she needs it the opportunity.
That opportunity seems to appear in the form of Sahil Roy (Neil’s twin brother) who offers Twinkle the chance to direct a short film to be shown at a school festival. Twinkle seizes the opportunity to begin her ascent to shiny-dom, but begins to become distracted by her growing feelings for the sweet, earnest Sahil. Meanwhile, Twinkle begins receiving emails from a secret admirer, and finds herself caught in a vaguely Austenian conflict between love and status. At the same time, Twinkle is also contending with a somewhat fraught relationship with her distant parents and looking to her grandmother (a complete hoot) for guidance.
The miscommunications and failures to speak up of this story are the kind of plot complications that can be tiresome and unrealistic in an adult rom-com, but they’re right at home in a story about sixteen-year-olds learning how to be humans.
It’s a sweet, young romance in a story about identity, belonging, and a young person’s painfully powerful need to feel seen.
I adored Menon’s writing here. Twinkle’s voice is strong and relatable and hilarious in a refreshingly non-annoying way. Like Becky Albertalli, Menon seems to have a handle on imitating the rhythms of a Gen Z nerd, while avoiding a trying-too-hard Steve Buschemi effect.
Twinkle pours her heart into the pages of her diary, which she writes in the form of letters to the female directors she idolizes. Those earnest, sometimes frustrated letters sent me right back to the feeling of being Twinkle’s age and desperately trying to take control of your young life.
I wouldn’t call Twinkle an unreliable narrator per se, because I really do get the impression that we get every little thing that happens straight onto the page. Twinkle is, however, an extremely oblivious narrator. Menon does a great job of organically allowing the reader to be a couple steps of the socially-challenged Twinkle, and it was great fun to watch Twinkle’s confusion and misinterpretations in the face of what should be obvious about other characters’ choices and behaviors. That effect is strengthened by the fact that we actually get to see a little beyond Twinkle’s perspective. The book also includes some text messages and (hilarious) blog entries from another character.
Twinkle is sharply aware of the disadvantages and prejudices that shape her life in a way I don’t think I’ve encountered before in YA. Somewhat like The Hate U Give’s Starr (hah, Twinkle and Starr) Twinkle’s social conscience has been shaped by the internet and the stories she hears from people she looks up to. This can manifest in some wonderful ways—Twinkle is strong and feminist and aware of inequality—and in some more ugly ways—Twinkle can tend towards bitterness and a false belief that she doesn’t have control over her own actions. There’s a lot of nuance and complexity in the portrayal of how Twinkle’s awareness of her own intersecting identities influences her life.
This title is certainly appropriate for the younger end of the YA range—I’d give this to a reader as young as seventh or eighth grade—but that’s not to say it’s childish or simple. I’m a good few years older than Twinkle but I found myself sent right back into that mindset in the best way. In fact, the way Menon allows the reader to stay ahead of Twinkle might make this book more enjoyable for a slightly older reader.
Anyway, I loved this one. The romance was sweet and youthful but still had some meat to it. I was surprised by the complexity of the relationships and characters in such a short book.
Twinkle was sweet but not frivolous, and the moments of awkwardness were never too cringey—it hit all the right notes for me. Four stars. Much love.