How Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever… proved me wrong.
I’ve always been a proud reader of “commercial” literature. Though I hate this classification. Although sometimes I veered into fantasy or historical romance, I spent most of my time reading young adult contemporary novels. There has always been something about the journey young characters go through that fascinated me. It’s relatable. Many times, we have been through similar situations, and there’s comfort in knowing we survived it all.
In the past few years, however, as life became busier and busier — and I had less and less time to read — , I’ve seen a shift in my preferred reads. The protagonists of the novels I was reading had aged up. I tried going back to some of my favorite YA authors but felt stuck, never getting through more than a few pages.
Had I become one of those people I once despised so much? A reader who “grew out” of YA novels?
If I look at the list of books I read in the last couple of years — let me be honest, 2018 was a glitch on the matrix, and I only managed to read two books, so I’m skipping it — there are so few teenager protagonists, that Gabriela from six years ago would never believe it.
Suddenly, all stories I was reading were about workplace problems, and high school was left far behind. Of course, our preferences do change as we grow older, and as we read more and more. I wouldn’t have given it that much thought, hadn’t I known myself better.
Was the change really in me? Were current YA novels that much different? Or was I reading them with the wrong mindset?
I’ve realized the best answer might be a mix of all of the above.
I did change. Life experiences leave a mark on us. As we navigate through new situations and discover different aspects of ourselves, we continue evolving as human beings. And that’s the beauty of it — remaining forever the same would be pointless.
The stories are also different because they have to be. High school experiences now are not the same as they were twelve years ago. The system and schools might have remained unchanged, but that has never been what’s relatable to me — growing up in Brazil, those were actually the least relatable aspects of YA novels. Some of their dilemmas, problems, and interactions are completely new, and reading them fails to transport me back in time simply because they were never experiences I went through.
Would it be possible, however, for me to allow myself to relate to these stories even though they feel more distant? Was I not connecting with them because I was less willing to? Maybe. Maybe not been able to fully understand the characters’ feelings was a lack of interest on my part. Maybe I was going into these readings expecting them to be the same when I should’ve known I would have a different involvement now.
Right before watching Mindy’s new Netflix show, I read the first YA novel in a really long time, maybe a full year. The story checked many items for me, even some extras: set in a city where I felt at home; great female friendship; cute and very romantic boyfriend; interesting family dynamics; and even some connections to my Brazilian identity.
I was sure it’d become one of my favorite reads, but it just never got to the next level for me.
That was it. That novel had everything to be a winner, and if even that one hadn’t made it for me, I was sure I had become one of those people — I had grown out of young adult stories.
Then comes Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever… on Netflix.
I’ve gotta make detour here and talk about my eternal love and admiration for Mindy’s work. I became familiar with her in The Mindy Project, although I knew she was better known for writing and acting on The Office. Mindy’s writing spoke to me on so many levels, that I, who had always aimed at being a novelist, suddenly felt compelled to try screenwriting.
With The Mindy Project, I became a fan. Then I read her two memoir books, watched some of her movies, watched her new Hulu show, and finally watched all nine seasons of The Office. After a comprehensive look at her work, I became a huge admirer.
Mindy Kaling is to comedy what Shonda Rhimes is to drama. They know what they are doing, and they do it amazingly.
As a fan, I knew I was going to watch her Netflix show no matter what, but there was a part of me apprehensive about not enjoying it. Have you ever had that feeling when your favorite author releases a new novel, and you anticipate it so much you start fearing you might not like it? I didn’t want this show to ruin my very strong, albeit one-sided, relationship with Mindy Kaling.
Thankfully, I was hooked from minute one.
Devi’s story is very culturally specific, and yet, told in a completely universal way. It’s not generic, but you don’t need to have gone through her experiences to walk on her shoes. You are completely transported to Devi’s reality right from the start.
I watched all ten episodes in two days. Any fear I had of not liking it was put to rest on the first minute, and I enjoyed every scene, certain that I could trust Mindy Kaling’s ability to create the most involving stories.
Never Have I Ever… tells the story of a teenage girl, facing teenage problems, and acting as a teenager would. Her experiences may never reflect mine, but I learned that if the story is written well, it captivates the audience through empathy and compassion. Devi is completely different from who I was as a teenager, yet I can relate to many of her motivations and goals.
After binge-watching the show with my best friend, I finally understood I didn’t “grow out of YA stories”. It’s just that some of them don’t speak to me — and maybe they wouldn’t even if I had read them as a teenager. What changed in my reading habit is not related to the age of the protagonist but to the narrative, how her story is told.
A good writer, like I know Mindy Kaling is, will be able to bring the audience, no matter who they are, to the environment they create. Maybe I just have to relearn how to chose my YA novels, and then I’ll fall back in love with these books that have kept me company for so long.