Sonya Lalli’s latest book, A Holly Jolly Diwali is a delightful holiday journey taking readers from the United States to India, and follows Niki on her global quest for love and connection. It’s a swoon-worthy romance that’s a perfect addition to any holiday reading list.
Being in the same age range as our protagonist, I could immediately relate to the constant struggle to find meaning in the modern world, when everything seems to be working against you. After being laid off from her job, Niki realizes the practical approach she has taken to life hasn’t served her well. After meeting the charming Rajandeep (Raj), Niki decides to fly to India for her friend Diya’s wedding, where she begins a whirlwind relationship with London musician Sameer, or Sam and begins her quest to find the true meaning of Diwali.
Lalli’s complete mastery of the genre of the romantic comedy is absolutely stunning to behold. Her characters are completely engaging and understandable if not always sympathetic, and her stories are so relatable. Her flirtatious dialogue is completely enthralling and delightful at each and every turn. Seeing Niki go on a journey to rediscover herself was like looking into a mirror. A woman at a crossroads in life, it was captivating to see this journey reflected in such a delectable holiday tale.
The cultural details woven into the story only made it richer. Set against the backdrop of Diwali, it was an eye-opening journey for readers to follow through the eyes of the protagonist. Addressing the extremely common experience of second or third culture children facing the struggle between the culture of their heritage and the one they live in was handled so sensitively. Lalli also addressed the issue of colorism, an intra-community issue that is far outside of my scope as a white woman to speak- on. There was also a pointed message included in this story for white readers in the common occurrence that is spiritual and cultural appropriation, specifically when it comes to India and Indian culture. White people tend to flock to Indian-related cultural aspects to attain “spiritual enlightenment” without actually engaging with the Indian people or the actual culture.
Lalli also clearly intimately understands the experience of having siblings. Through Niki and her sister Jasmine, we can see the impact of parental expectations, and the difficult relationships that can develop when siblings respond to those expectations very differently. The dynamic between older and younger sisters is so true to life, and in a sibling duo there is often one sibling who takes the straight and narrow path and one who lives life to the beat of their own drum. True happiness is often found somewhere in the middle of these two polarized choices and both Niki and Jasmine were on their own journeys to discover this.
The portrayal of friendship in A Holly Jolly Diwali was another delightful part of this story. Although it was a romantic comedy through and through, the friendships shown throughout this book were sensational. The experience of reconnecting with old friends was a comforting one, and Niki and Daya clearly picked up right where they left off to continue supporting one another like the queens they are. Making new friends can be a frightening experience for anyone and it was a nice change of pace to see Niki and Masooma connect, and for Masooma to give Niki advanced warning about who Raj really was the entire time.
The real star of A Holly Jolly Diwali, however, was Aasha Auntie. This absolute boss of a woman starred in Tollywood films, starting out at nineteen years old. She completely flipped the stereotypes of in-laws on its head, and clearly only had her son Sam and Niki’s best interests at heart. Her strained relationship with her husband is heartbreaking to read. Her progressive and compassionate attitude carry the story and make her one of the most lovable characters in a book full of loveable characters.
The Shah Rukh Khan cameo was an absolute brilliant cap in a book that was full of gorgeous moments. That he initially wasn’t recognized by Niki was even better, and hopefully the Bollywood legend appreciated his tribute. A Holly Jolly Diwali is a delightful holiday romp that is worthy addition to any holiday reading list. I know I’ll be revisiting it every year!
A Holly Jolly Diwali is available now.