“The Shaadi Set-Up,” by Lillie Vale

Lillie Vale

Reviewed by Tamatha Cain

This delightful and deceptively deep romance delivers laughs, sighs, and heartfelt cheers as former sweethearts battle the past and the expectations of family to find their way to happily-ever-after. The prose is mouth-watering at times, as are the passages describing swoon-worthy food.

When Rita, an Indian-American furniture restorer, signs herself and her boyfriend up for a matchmaking site, the results are not what she expected. Hoping to convince everyone, including herself, that her boyfriend Neil is “the one,” she is thrown off-kilter when the Desi matchmaking site Shaadi.com instead matches her up with someone else: none other than her high school boyfriend and first love Milan.

The romance at the heart of this book is a torturous slow-burn that takes Rita on an emotional roller coaster to which many will relate: that unforgettable first love and its inevitable influence on the way we see everything after it’s gone. In this case, as it turns out, the love might not be so “gone,” and things get complicated, confusing, and romantic all at once.

The prose is charming and funny, warm and sweet. Vale’s exes-to-lovers scenario inspires readers to root for the exes to hurry up and get back to being lovers again. There is fascinating background on the ins and outs of the Indian matchmaking site Shaadi.com, that ubiquitous site traditionally used more by parents than by the singles being set up. As the daughter of an Indian woman, I was fascinated by the vivid and familiar family scenes and relationships, and it felt like Ms. Vale and I had much in common besides the Indian background. That perhaps in one of Vale’s strengths: her ability to highlight unique aspects of the modern Indian American experience and ultimately show us our greater similarities.

Lillie Vale also writes YA, making a name for herself with titles like Small Town Hearts and Beauty and the Besharam (coming Spring 2022). The Shaadi Set-Up is her debut adult novel. Vale deftly offers authentic views of modern Indian families that resonate universally, or as Vale puts it, “The Shaadi Set-Up is a love letter to the places we call home and people we find our way back to.”

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