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Meet Senior Year’s Nightmare Child: Review of ‘Enter Title Here’ by Rahul Kanakia

By Megha Parwani

Goodreads

In dedication to all seniors writing college apps, spiraling towards Reshma-esque crisis: Stay strong. You are loved.

“To start with, I’m your protagonist— Reshma Kapoor— and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.”

Reshma is your every-day overachiever, except with lawsuits, drug addiction and blackmail tossed in. Now I make her sound like a mafiosa in the making, which she is not (but could be). Rather, she’s valedictorian of a cut-throat, Silicon Valley high school, with every intention to be Stanford-bound come fall. She’s got a heap of awards and extracurriculars, but no elusive and extraordinary hook: That one thing that’ll have the Ivys falling at her feet. So she lands herself a literary agent. She’s got 28 days till Stanford’s Early Action deadline to churn out a 50,000 word novel.

Resh decides to write about her life, but –as she does most things– with a few embellishments. She’s spent four years in an Adderall haze, pulling out all the stops to clamber her way to valedictorian-hood. That sort of story just doesn’t sell on its own. She needs to experience so-called hallmarks of Young Adult fiction: parties, boys and a makeover. So she writes. She knows what the expectation is. Her outward transformation will lead to the spiritual awakening: an epiphany that there’s life beyond Stanford and she’s missed out for years. But she knows otherwise.

“By the end of the novel, I’ll turn into a whimsical girl who harvests all the possible joy from each moment and lives a carefree existence and lets the future take care of itself and all that other bullshit.”

This book is insanely meta-fictional. Kanakia’s book is the one Resh has written for her agent. The characters are self-aware. A guy has long hair, lamenting his buzz cut, because he asked for it on page 82. Resh’s therapist, who’s an aspiring novelist, is a vessel for Kanakia to lay out the mechanics of Enter Title Here. Dr. Wassermann discusses internal arcs, denouement and foils.

“I think murdering someone is solid,” Dr. Wasserman said. “You have so many options. Your parents. Your boyfriend. Your new friend Alex. This girl Chelsea. Your teacher. The principal. Even the lawyer. Actually, the lawyer sounds like a very good candidate. I would think about—”

So let’s get to Resh. Firstly, Kudos for writing up  an Indian-American protagonist. Her comments about the study-machine stereotype, parents, mispronounced names, and the Asian college admission struggle were spot-on for me. She’s me without a filter on a bitter day, thinking society is out for high-achieving Asian blood and that my dad could murder a boyfriend simply for existing.

Mom’s eyes flicked over me. “Exercising is good, but you should sleep, ke nahi?”

“I’ve been thinking about writing a novel,” I said. “But I’m not sure where to go with it. I’m not a sympathetic main character. My quirks are not lovable. I am not clumsy. I am not overwhelmed by life. I am not unlucky in love.”

“Love? What love?” She shook her head. “Is there some boy you’ve been seeing?”

Besides 1000 points for being ethnically Indian, she’s a witty, cunning and complex antihero who chews up and spits out anything in her way to glory, including Indian girl tropes. Young Adult fiction often perpetuates the idea that the quality of a novel is contingent on the female protagonist being likable– a notion that is deeply upsetting to any feminist.  To some extent, you’ll find her sympathizable regardless of your background or the acuity of your moral compass. As much as you hate what Resh does to bop to the top, you don’t hate her for it. Every awry step of the way, I saw myself psychoanalyzing and justifying this girl’s mania. Although Reshma epitomizes self-direction and warped ethics, she was made this way by a lot of background factors. Her parents being Indian university royalty (They went to IIT!), Susan Le’s betrayal, and the pressure-cooker culture of Bell High ought to have something to do with Resh’s deviousity. Right?

“But actually writing the novel and getting into Stanford were two aspects of the same desire: I just wanted someone to love me.”

As far as secondary characters go, they had plot device vibes. This further blows my mind because this was Resh’s intention. Her love interests, parents, therapists and frenemies are there for her to bounce off of; Reshama uses them to develop the protagonist, herself. 

My only issue lay with the under-development of Resh’s parents. While Kanakia quite explicitly draws together lose ends (“Okay. This is the dénouement. Get ready, because nothing comes after this.”), her parents’ plot was left hanging. This disappointed me because Reshma really needed a heart-to-heart with her mom. The former had a warped perception of what was expected of her and it felt like her character development felt a bit incomplete. Then again, maybe a lack of development is Resh/Kanakia’s intention. I guess I’m just sad because Resh’s parents were just the kind of Aunty & Uncle that my parents would  would befriend.

“I know Mummy’s down there thinking, Oh, Reshma tried really hard, but she just couldn’t hack it on the tests, so I guess she doesn’t deserve to get into Stanford. But she’s got it backward. You start by saying, I deserve it. No matter what anyone else thinks, I deserve it. And then you do absolutely everything it takes to make it happen. And I did.”

While Enter Title Here contains a lot of humor and hyperbole, there is a lot to be said about the insecurity and obsession fueling Reshma’s self-destruction. As a senior grinding out college essays, I sympathized with her frustration. Higher education admissions have become wildly unpredictable, and while the rest of us shrug our shoulders and hope for the best, Resh wants to outmaneuver the system. It’s kind of admirable, actually.

“That’s the problem with people. They think perfection is about things you can’t control: your intelligence or your wealth or your beauty. But if they thought of it as avoiding mistakes, they’d understand how achievable it is.”

  • Rating: 5/5
  • Genre/Themes: Young Adult, Meta, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
  • Recommended to: Indian Americans everywhere. Those seeking a protagonist you hate to love.

 

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