As a former writer of The Office,Mindy Kaling understands that she has high standards to live up to in the comedy world. Even though most people knew who Kaling was by the time of her book publication, Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me?,she still opens her book thanking “Aunts of America for buying this for your niece you don’t know that well but want to connect with more.” The book is filled with these self-deprecation comments followed by chuckles. Her tone is not depressing, it is conversational. I had the feeling that I was chatting with my best friend while reading the book. And I think that is exactly what Kaling intended. She wants you to feel welcome into her world and to like her. She reels you in with stories about her childhood, her struggles to become a writer, and the mad, mad world of dating. Kaling is off-topic occasionally, but it feels as if you are reading her thoughts on paper and thoughts are not always linear. Sometimes the book reads like a blog post, short and observational, like the chapter “Why Do Men Put On Their Shoes So Slowly?” Others read like a memoir, lengthy and personal, like the chapter “Chubby for Life.” Yet all the chapters feel distinctly Kaling.
Coming from an immigrant family, Kaling admits her disgust with “Jack and Diane” and all the high school frivolity they stand for:
I wish there were a song called “Nguyen and Ari,” a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother’s old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SATs and different AP courses, and then, after months of studying, and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices. This is a song teens need to inadvertently memorize.
This is Kaling’s upbringing, but she introduces the reader to it through genuine confusion. Why do we celebrate high school triumphs and argue that everything gets worse when one ages? Kaling moved to New York City after college and then Hollywood, but she continues to love and respect her parents and does not complain about how much work she has to do. Kaling may joke at the beginning of the novel that this is a great book to buy for your estranged niece or daughter, but this really is a great book for teenagers who struggle to fit in. Kaling did not get where she is now by “peaking in high school.” She had a strong work ethic that she continues to have today.
Kaling is at her best in her more personal chapters. She mixes sad tidbits about being teased for being obese with unique perspective. “It’s a small point of pride that I was a six-pound baby, because from my limited understanding of baby weights, that’s on the skinnier side. I flaunt my low baby weight the way really obese people must flaunt their dainty, small feet. It’s my sole claim to skinny fame.” From the title alone, one can tell that Kaling is a little obsessed with being liked. Consequently, many of the memories have to do with being left out of social situations or being teased. In one instance, when her co-writers on The Office, Michael Shur and B.J. Novak, made plans to go to a baseball game together, Kaling angrily stewed in the corner, thinking, “I’ll get you, you clique-y sons of bitches.” Her humor runs from snappy comments like this to full-on rants about men shaving off their chest hair, but either way it is remarkably funny and you will find yourself chuckling with nearly every page.
Some of the topics in the book, while entertaining, are a bit off-topic and nonsensical. But the chapters on body hair or karaoke etiquette could be read aloud to a group of friends to great amusement. The chapters tend to stick to certain themes and stay on the right timeline, but towards the end of the novel Kaling inserts random chapters such as “Non-Traumatic Things That Make Me Cry” and “In Defense of Chest Hair.” These chapters are random, but they are not unwelcome. Kaling struggles to stay on topic, but that’s alright. Her novel runs like a delicious three-course dinner and the chapters at the end are the frivolous dessert. No matter what Mindy Kaling writes, I am sure it would be hilarious.
Mindy Kaling graduated from Dartmouth College in 2001 with a Bachelors Degree in Playwriting. Kaling then moved to New York where she later wrote and starred in Matt and Ben, a play she created with her best friend Brenda Withers, loosely based on the friendship between Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Kaling was “discovered” when Greg Daniels, the creator of the American Office saw Matt and Ben. Since writing, starring in, and sometimes directing The Office, Kaling has created her own television show, The Mindy Project, that she writes and stars in. Kaling has also starred in movies such as License to Wed, No Strings Attached, and This is the End. This is her first book.