Over the years, the two things that have remained a constant source of light and happiness in my life have been friendships and family. To me, both these entities are synonymous—they flow into each other. I am me because of the strength, resilience, and unconditional love my family (and chosen family) give me without fail. These thoughts are what kept coming to me as I read Sonya Lalli’s new book, “Serena Singh Flips the Script.”
The story centers around Serena Singh—a young, smart, and somewhat reserved Indian woman in her early 30s. She seems to have it all together on the surface. Serena is determined to have an independent, happy, and fulfilling life where these three things seemingly take precedence over everything else: her career, family, and long-lasting friendships.
We meet Serena at her sister’s wedding, where a typical Indian uncle tries to steal the show. This scene immediately comforted me and made me chuckle out of nostalgia. With that wholesome nostalgia also came a wave of sadness when I remembered how my older cousin sisters would be judged at weddings for not being married, the same way Serena fears the aunties around her gossipping:
Already 36, and to have a younger sister married first?
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As South Asian women, there is a lot of pressure to be a super obedient daughter and follow parent-prescribed scripts. Of course, Serena flips that script in more ways than one. She has a badass neck tattoo, chic, short hair, is unmarried, and is even briefly in a relationship with a gora—a white person. Serena is an inspiring character who challenges the expectation to be a “Good Indian girl.”
As the story quickly progresses and settles in, Serena’s loneliness takes over the story after she gradually loses connection with her best friend—her sister—because of forces beyond her control. The accumulation of her lonely reality becomes unbearable and is when the gist of the narrative reveals itself. Serena decides to “flip the script” in another way and take matters into her own hands. She attempts to find friends with whom she can create that warm, cozy, best-friends-forever relationship. After a few failed attempts, Serena finally finds a spark with her office mate, Ainsley. To Serena’s surprise, she finds herself growing closer and closer to Ainsley. This closeness reveals to Serena parts of her that she didn’t acknowledge before.
The story unravels just how much friendships can transform many parts of one’s life. Because of her friendship with Ainsley, Serena reconnects with her parents, specifically her father, with whom she did not have a good relationship for most of her life. Her parents are a big part of the story, and I especially appreciated the prominence Lalli gave to Serena’s mother, Sandeep, whose narrative is expressed through a third-person point of view.
Sandeep is my favourite character, and I would definitely read a whole book centering on just her story! The duality of perspective between Serena and Sandeep is powerful, and it brought me to tears (content note for domestic abuse). On the one hand, Sandeep’s story is of an immigrant trying to find a safe space in a foreign land. On the other, Serena’s story is of a first-generation immigrant daughter trying to break away from traditional norms while still making her Punjabi Sikh parents proud.
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I appreciate that Lalli did not center the story around Serena’s romantic life, despite this book being under the romantic literature genre. Even with rekindling romance, it was through finding friendship first, and then (re)falling in love. I also appreciate that Serena’s flaws are front and center—plainly visible to the reader. It made her a more relatable and nuanced character, which made for a more interesting story. I couldn’t help but wonder how different the story would be if, in the end, Serena remained single and did not fall back in love with an old flame. A big part of me wished that Serena remains independent and single until it occurred to me that being in a relationship does not take away from one’s independence, so I back-pedaled from that thought.
“Serena Singh Flips the Script” is a light-hearted yet perfectly-complicated read with several strong characters. It had many relatable laugh-out-loud moments, cultural *eye-roll* and take a deep sigh moments, and many wholesome I-need-to-call-my-best-friend moments.
It was also strangely comforting to read a present-day, recently released story about a woman living her life in the city. Serena is grabbing coffee at the local farmer’s market, going to the beach with friends, and partaking in so many other social activities. Who would be caught doing anything of the sort during these pandemic times!?