While You Were Dreaming by Alisha Rai

A talented seamstress and crafter, Sonia Patil loves creating and consuming cosplay and the comics that inspire it. She also has a crush on James Cooper. While faint and staggering from a medical condition, James stumbles into a western New York canal. Dressed in a super-hero inspired costume she has sewn herself, Sonia jumps in and drags James to safety, then runs before the cops arrive because she fears drawing attention to her family who are undocumented immigrants from India. Although Sonia is a U.S. citizen, her mother has already been deported, and her sister Kareena needs the state provided healthcare to treat her currently in remission leukemia.

Unfortunately, someone has captured the rescue on video and posts it online, creating a viral situation and naming the unidentified hero, Shadow. Fearing detection, Sonia performs damage control to keep her identity as Shadow a secret. Still, this young woman with a strong sense of justice discovers that “the devil works hard, but social media works harder” (139).

After months of a starvation diet, Sonia is hungry for affection, so she risks the vulnerability that friendship brings, first with Hana, then with James and the other members of the Cooper family. Hugs from Pooja, a pact with James, and working alongside Niam—who has a self-assured, no-nonsense manner in the kitchen—bring her joy. However, because she doesn’t believe her dreams are meant to come true, Sonia doubts that she is worthy of the attention and kindnesses she is shown. Of course, there are bullies and resentful others. In her fantasies, Sonia is confident and calm. But in real life, she is cautious, careful, and prone to anxiety. In fact, if there were an Anxiety Olympics, Sonia claims the gold medal in Intrusive Thoughts and Doom-Scenario Planning.

Such is the plot of Alisha Rai’s debut young-adult novel, While You Were Dreaming. Readers will likely find a connection somewhere in this multilayered love story that reveals the depth of Sonia’s self-talk and the consequences of her negative thinking.

One of the most insightful moments in the novel may occur in Rai’s discussion of ethnicity after Sonia calls herself “white-washed.” Pooja, who doesn’t care for the term, claims: “Our diaspora is vast, and individuals are a product of a lot of different factors. You’re still the ethnicity that you are, even if you don’t feel like you fit whatever mold you should” (254-255).

  • Posted by Donna

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