Review Copy: When She Smiled

This coming-of-age romance set in India has an interesting setting, but blah characters. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Mrityunjoy Roy is a fifteen year old Bengali who has spent the last ten years of his life growing up in Shimla, India. While his family is completely academically oriented, he wants something more. Finally he meets Akanksha in school, who turns his world upside down with her gorgeous looks and mind boggling smile. As fate would have it, she joins his tuition, and thus begins the torrid year of puppy love, romance, heartbreak, tragedy, and self discovery. Set among the scenic Shivalik hills of Shimla when mobile phones and internet were non-existent, this is a story of how an average young teenager comes to terms with his destiny. (Summary via Amazon.com)

The Amazon summary, despite being a little dramatic in talking about destiny, gives you a good idea of what to expect from this book.  The setting is amazing–it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book set in India, and I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA book with that setting.  The author does a good job of drawing attention to the details of everyday life in what is (for me, anyway) an unusual setting.

That said, I had difficulties connecting with Roy, the main character.  He narrates the book, but oftentimes his voice seemed a little off.  I had a hard time believing that a teenager would say some of the things he said; his thoughts seemed stilted at times.  At other times, Roy was so immature, especially in his interactions with the girl he likes, that I just had to roll my eyes at him.  But that’s in keeping with most fifteen-year-olds I know (including my past self!).

I also had a few problems with the timeline.  The book covers an entire school year, in which Roy goes back to his old school, rekindles friendships, meets Akanksha of the beautiful smile, goes on a disastrous school trip, and has a couple of pretty tragic things happen to him… but that’s kind of the problem.  Things happen to Roy; he studies and goes to class and walks the roads and argues with his family, but he doesn’t do much.  His idea of attracting a girl includes answering all of his teacher’s questions correctly.  The year-long timeline seems vast and empty when you look at what, exactly, Roy does.  (Maybe that’s what they mean by destiny?  Maybe it’s something that does happen to you, rather than you doing it.)

Despite the gorgeous and interesting setting, I had some real problems with the bland, inactive characters and the uneven voice of the narrator and main character.  Very mixed feelings about this one.

Rating: Meh

P.S.  If you’re looking for YA coming-of-age fiction with a hint of romance, check out: A Northern Light or The Goose Girl.

About Monica

I am obsessed with all things books. I'm a music teacher by day and a freelance editor by night.

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