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Alisha Rai’s YA romance While You Were Dreaming brings all the best parts of the veteran romance author’s love stories to a brand new audience. Rai’s debut in the young adult space riffs off the 90s rom-com While You Were Sleeping and follows the story of hardworking high schooler Sonia Patil. Sonia’s life takes an exciting, yet fearful, turn when she saves her crush James Cooper from imminent death while wearing a homemade cosplay outfit that shields her identity.

Sonia is terrified of having her identity revealed once the story of her rescue spreads on social media, and readers learn why shortly after the incident unfolds: Her mother was recently deported to India, and her older sister Kareena, who carries the burden of financially supporting her, is undocumented. On the heels of this accident, Sonia builds a connection with James’ loud and loving family, allowing the warmth she feels in their home to fill the gaps in her own. As her connection with James’ brooding older brother Niam builds, a sweet teenage romance unfolds.

While You Were Dreaming by Alisha Rai explores teen angst, romance, and immigration.

While You Were Dreaming by Alisha Rai explores teen angst, romance, and immigration.

The novel comes in at over 400 pages, which initially feels excessive for a YA romance, but Sonia’s story unfolds swiftly and with a level of care for the entire cast of characters that warrants every page. The standout relationship between Sonia and her older sister slash unofficial guardian Kareena traces the complex arc of healing a troubled relationship rocked by trauma. The siblings display a fierce protectiveness for each other, which, in tandem with their increasing closeness throughout the story, makes this relationship more interesting than Sonia’s dynamic with either love interest.

For some, the transition from writing for adults to writing for younger people can be daunting, and many authors have been unsuccessful. Rai, however, never talks down to her audience or her main character, effectively embodying the voice of an anxious 16 year-old girl with the thoughtfulness it requires. The story presents its fair share of teen angst, but it feels true to life rather than melodramatic.

As Sonia navigates her relationship with herself and her family’s immigration status, she comes of age in a way that feels authentic – sometimes messily, sometimes hilariously, and always with good intentions. While the book is definitely low on the spice meter, especially in comparison to Rai’s adult romances, her skillful storytelling ensures each turn in Sonia’s world has the capacity to engage readers across age groups.

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