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Film-Loving 'Twinkle' Is A Star On The Page

April 6, 2018

Living Room. Space Coast, Florida

The basics:

Name: Alethea Kontis

Occupation: Author. Actress. Narrator. Nerd. Book Reviewer. Fairy Tale Ranter. Princess General of the Resistance.

Crush: Sebastian Stan. (Since Jefferson in Once Upon a Time.)

I thought it only fitting to begin my first official NPR review the same way as Twinkle Mehra begins her first entry in Sandhya Menon's utterly charming From Twinkle, With Love. From page one I was enchanted by Twinkle's voice. I immediately wanted to be best friends with her — a desire that grew as the story went on, and I began to see so much of myself in her.

From Twinkle, With Love is packed with texts, notes, blog entries and the occasional email, but the bulk of this novel is a diary of the private thoughts of Twinkle Mehra herself. Ever the aspiring filmmaker, Twinkle addresses each entry to a famous female director — luminaries like Mira Nair, Nora Ephron, Ava DuVernay, Jane Campion, Katherine Bigelow, Haifa al-Mansour, and Sofia Coppola. For those familiar with these women and their creative catalogue, it's a bonus feature that adds an interesting layer of its own to the story.

Like the beloved main characters of most classic teen movies, Twinkle is an outsider. A geek. A wallflower. She tells us that in Shakespeare's time she would have been considered a groundling, compared to the rest of the "silk feathered hats" that attend Pike's Peak Charter school. She lives at home with her seemingly indifferent mother and father, and her vibrant, new-age-loving grandmother. Twinkle's mission statement (and that's her phrase) is "to change lives with my films and show the world what a Desi girl can do." She also longs to be reunited with her best friend Maddie Tanaka (a silk feather hat type) and dreams of getting together with her longtime crush Neil Roy (the most perfect guy in school).

Instead, Twinkle ends up teaming up with Sahil, Neil's equally as handsome but 100% more awkward twin brother. Sahil — also a movie buff — dreams of being a Roger Ebert-level film critic, and has been in love with Twinkle for pretty much forever. Sahil suggests that he and Twinkle make a film for PPC's Midsummer Night Festival. He'll produce it, if she'll direct it. Of course, she says yes!

I laughed, I cried, I skipped dinner without realizing it. I hereby give this novel two thumbs up, and declare it to be better than 'Cats.'

I could tell from their meet-cute that this was a match made in heaven. And then, as the adorableness went on — and on! — I did that thing where I looked to see how much of the book was left. Too much. Which meant that Twinkle and Sahil's perfect world was about to get complicated.

I must tip my (not remotely silk or feathered) hat to Sandhya Menon for her clever use of first-person POV as the unreliable narrator. It is so easy for the reader to get swept up in Twinkle's unabashed enthusiasm — but those of us who have been through these trials before can see what's coming, while Twinkle remains innocently oblivious. And instead of distracting from the novel, this tactic pulls you in even further. I found myself wanting to yell, "Think about it, Twinkle! You know the answer! It's right in front of you!" just as I might scream, "Don't go back in the house!" at the screen during a horror movie.

From Twinkle, With Love is one of those novels that is a genuine pleasure to read. It's so engaging that it's impossible to put down. I laughed, I cried, I skipped dinner without realizing it. I hereby give this novel two thumbs up, and declare it to be better than Cats.

May we all be as brave and confident in our art as Twinkle Mehra.

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alethea Kontis
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