Why Not Me? has charming character but lacks complexity

In the most relatable terms, Mindy Kaling, from her first book, Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (And Other Concerns),  is like a meeting with an old friend over coffee, sharing stories, laughing together and assuring that the friendship will always stay the same. Kaling, in her newest book, Why Not Me? represents the same old friend, but one who has changed. Everything is familiar, but meeting up also feels forced at the same time. Though there’s no doubt that Kaling is a comedic genius, her new book is disappointing to fans who have been following her for a long time. She aims to be compelling, thoughtful and funny but does not achieve it to the same degree that she did in previous works.

Kaling starts off her new book in the same way she did the first one. She begins with her comical, yet relatable, grade school experiences, which include the time when she didn’t have any friends and was a lonely girl who struggled with acceptance. Then, she talks about the era of when she worked on The Office, but talks less about her experiences at the show and focuses more on the bizarre and glamorous life of becoming an actress in Hollywood. Her tone is a contradictory combination of self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement. She spends an unnecessary amount of time recalling the intimate details of her Hollywood friendships, the spectacular parties she’s been invited to and the ridiculous drama that’s come out of it, wrapping it up with a few sentences of the “but I’m not one of them” style of humility.

Kaling recollects struggles she’s gone through, most of which she admits are first-world problems, without much appreciation for what she has. Though she usually ends her long complaints with a few sentences of gratitude, the reader can’t help but feel that it is no longer genuine. There are the occasional jokes and insightful observations, like when she imagines what her life would have been if she didn’t become a comedy writer and instead became a high school history teacher. Kaling clearly has a talent for writing but somehow ends up writing about things that make her appear to lack depth, a depth that was clear in her first book. She is casual and fun, but in a way that feels like reading your 13-year-old little sister’s unfiltered diary and not the cool and inspiring actress you always wanted to be friends with.

The more redeeming and sincere parts of the biography are when Kaling talks about her trials in finding love and her journey to self-confidence. She speaks fondly of her best friend, ex-boyfriend and The Office co-star, B.J. Novak.  Though she describes their relationship as “complicated,” the way she writes about him is endearing.  They are “soup snakes,” a reference from the seventh season of The Office, where Michael Scott mistakenly reads “soul mates” as “soup snakes” when describing his relationship with Holly Flax. When writing, she lets B.J. read everything she writes. ”I just want to impress him. He is very difficult to impress. You can never predict what he’ll like,” she says. She values his opinion and appreciates his input, even when it might not always be what she wants to hear (and sometimes causes her to angrily storm out of the room or ignore him). She also divulges entertaining anecdotes about her dating experience with a man from the White House, which is mostly bragging about the impressive parties and events she got invited to.

The topic of body image is a recurring one throughout the book, sometimes as a way to poke fun at herself and other times seriously discussed. Kaling talks about how it hurts her feelings when people label her and see her only as an “overweight minority with a TV show.” She talks about how she doesn’t like herself sometimes. In the last chapter, she focuses on the topic of confidence.  “I’m a big fat fraud,” she writes. “I’m completely not at peace with the way I look. I don’t wake up in the morning, look at my naked body in the mirror and say ‘Good morning body. Once again you’ve totally nailed it. You gorgeous and perfect thing. That wobbly patch of cellulite? A miracle. Each stretch mark? A Picasso. Holy crap I look good.’” Kaling explains that confidence is a lot like respect: It needs to be earned.

So maybe the old friend from the coffee shop didn’t change. Maybe this is who Mindy always has been. Though she may come off as braggy and shallow in a way that will make you think, “Is she for real?” Mindy is honest in the way that she owns up to it and doesn’t pretend to not be. She had to fight to reach the amount of self-confidence she has today and openly admits that she still struggles to love herself despite being a body-positive role model. Though Why Not Me? was a slight disappointment, at least Mindy Kaling is brave enough to be herself in this judgmental world, and there’s so much respect in that.