Anusha Desai is starting over. Though she is thirty years old, partially still married, and the mother to an active five-year-old, Anu feels like her life is just beginning. Married in her early twenties to Neil, her first serious boyfriend, Anu has spent the last several years playing homemaker while caring for their daughter, Kanika, and fielding visits from her well-meaning, but boundary-ignoring mother and mother-in-law. Now she and Neil are separated, she has a new boyfriend, Ryan, and she is finally able to dedicate more time to her passion: yoga. But starting over is about much more than setting boundaries, meeting people, and reinvesting time in your hobbies; it is also about self-reflection and awareness, and asking yourself real, hard-hitting questions about what you want. As it turns out, adulting is hard, and Anu is about to learn that, like yoga, living a fulfilling life takes some serious flexibility.
Adding to Anu’s stress are her tight-knit and very opinionated family and community. While they first pressured Anu to legitimize her “modern” relationship by getting married at a young age, they are now adamant that her separation is only a “fluke.” Even after meetings with lawyers and financial advisers to ease the process, Anu, Neil, and Kanika are still dealing with the fallout of their separation. Writing this tension, Lalli weaves cultural influences with humor to create a situation that is as serious as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Lalli has no trouble poking fun at Anu’s old-fashioned, often misogynistic, family members, but she maintains a very contemporary tone when expressing Anu’s desires to break free from her family’s influence while still remaining true to the ideals and morals she values, especially where dating is concerned. It is a problem that many first-generation readers will no doubt sympathize with, but also one that educates non-POC readers without bending the knee to them.
Where Grown-Up Pose shines is in its chronicling of Anu learning to not only ask for and chase what she wants, but to ask herself why she wants it. Early on in the novel, Anu is offered the chance to run her own yoga studio, but despite her passion for yoga, she declines. Upon reflecting on her answer, Anu realizes she cannot find a valid reason for avoiding this new opportunity, and she is forced to ask herself some tough questions. Her involvement with the yoga studio also introduces her to a new young friend, Imogen, who helps her learn how to live a little. Older, more experienced readers will grimace at some of Anu’s choices, but, as Lalli brilliantly proves, Anu’s journey is not so much about the choices she makes, but rather her willingness to make them. From dalliances with alcohol and marijuana to make-out sessions with strange men, Anu revisits every awkward twenty-something experience she missed out on by marrying so young–and learns that they’re not all worth the fuss.
For representation, Grown-Up Pose gets an immediate five stars. Lalli, writing from an OWN Voices perspective, is comfortable and at ease when describing the families and cultural divides at the heart of her novel. She does not waste time over-explaining details that can be easily understood through context clues, nor does she sacrifice authenticity for the comfort of non-POC readers by italicizing or overemphasizing words or phrases borrowed from Indian culture. Instead, Lalli plays with readers’ preconceived notions and misconceptions, poking fun at the ways well-meaning people can inadvertently say or do racist things, while still emphasizing the importance of awareness and accountability. (Humorously, Anu, in an attempt to dodge a man at a bar, claims that her Indian grandmother invented yoga, and that her family is wealthy beyond belief. Naturally, the man immediately compares her family to another Indian family, the Patels.)
As much as I loved the yoga element, I wish Lalli had expanded upon it a bit more, or explored why Anu finds the activity so appealing. Yoga serves as an excellent vehicle for Anu’s development of interpersonal relationships, but despite the clever title of this book, Anu could have been interested in any other hobby without drastically altering the plot. While Anu’s journey to adulthood took the forefront of the novel, I would have loved to see more development of her identity as a yogi or businesswoman. Similarly, some of the themes of independence and identity felt under-utilized at various points in the novel. While Lalli raises several interesting questions and discussion points, I often found myself wishing she had dug just a bit deeper.
Grown-Up Pose is a light, breezy read that will appeal to readers of Breathe In, Cash Out, Separation Anxiety, and Twice in a Blue Moon. While Lalli excels tracking Anu’s journey to independence, the dialogue and development did fall flat at times, with Anu’s references to pop culture often seeming forced or outdated (to be fair, any anachronisms could be due to Anu being out of touch with a lot of things that most readers her age will be very familiar with). Although Grown-Up Pose is classified as a romantic comedy, Anu’s romance is really more of a subplot to her own relationship with herself, making this novel feel much more like women’s fiction than romantic comedy. This categorization does nothing to diminish the enjoyment or appeal of reading Grown-Up Pose, but I feel it is an important distinction for readers looking for a little more swoon-worthy moments or romantic tension. All in all, Grown-Up Pose is a worthwhile read for readers looking to diversify their shelves, or anyone feeling overwhelmed by adulting, though readers looking for heavier or more romantic themes might prefer Lalli’s previous book, The Matchmaker’s List.