Released by Random House on Nov. 1, Kaling's comedic memoir is a series of witty essays in which she chronicles her childhood as a "chubster," her years at Dartmouth where Kaling "went to pursue her love of white people and North Face parkas," she writes her post-college employment struggles and her ultimate rise to success as a writer, actress and executive producer for "The Office."
Kaling's essays are first and foremost side-splittingly funny. Chapters such as "Chubby for Life," "Revenge Fantasies While Jogging" and "These Are the Narcissistic Photos in My BlackBerry" prove riotously hilarious yet effortlessly crafted, reflecting comedic prowess gained from a lifelong love of comedy and years working on a major comedy series.
I wish I could include in this review every one of Kaling's mind-blowingly brilliant bits of prose, but alas I must highlight only a few choice quotations. My favorite portion of the book, of course, was Kaling's description of her Dartmouth career. She writes, "Not to sound braggy or anything, but I kind of killed it in college. You know that saying, big fish in a small pond?' At Dartmouth College, I was freakin' Jaws in a community swimming pool." As an undergraduate, Kaling wrote plays, acted, sang in the Rockapellas and worked as a cartoonist for The Dartmouth, she explains in the book.
Although I savored Kaling's sarcastic portrayals of life at the College in one scene, Kaling lists typical Dartmouth activities such as "beer pong, floating in an inner tube down the Connecticut River, fraternity hazing rituals, building effigies and burning them down in the center of our quad, a cappella and driving to Montreal for strip clubs" I also appreciated her non-Dartmouth narratives.
Kaling's book is most enriched by her stupefyingly smart one-liners, like going to an interview with a "zit throbbing like a nightclub." In a later chapter, beneath a picture of her in bed with her laptop, Kaling writes, "As you can see, when I write, I look like I'm recovering from tuberculosis." Moments like these make readers both relish the richness of Kaling's writing and simultaneously lament their lack of a comparably sharp sense of humor.
While I found myself dog-earing page after page of Kaling's droll witticisms, I also flagged sections of the book in which Kaling renders herself a relatable character another major forte of her work. She describes herself as a woman without an "ideal" body mass index who wasn't popular in high school and liked hanging out with her family as a teenager. As a former high school band geek who has never refused a dessert and prefers hanging with my mom to partying on the weekends, I (like many readers, I'm sure) could empathize with Kaling, despite her star status and jealousy-inducing talent for jokes.
Perhaps the most appealing element of the book is how Kaling weaves her life story into the series of humorous chapters. Readers learn not only that Kaling's bedroom "is so untidy it looks like vandals ransacked the Anthropologie Sale section" and that Kaling "recoiled in fear" when she met Mickey Mouse's Disney World impersonator, but also that she struggled with middle school friend problems, floundered professionally until she landed her big break on television and still hopes to find a "schedule-keeping, waking-up-early, wallet-carrying, non-Velcro-shoe-wearing man."
In the last section of her book, titled "My All-Important Legacy," Kaling includes a chapter called "Strict Instructions for My Funeral" in which she specifies that the dress code at her wake should be "chic devastated." She follows this chapter with a mock eulogy written by friend Michael Schur and a chapter titled "Good-bye," in which she writes (in jest, of course), "I hope my next book will be about my husband, my kids, my cool movie career, and sharing all the things I learned about since I wrote this book."
Laced with sarcasm and spunk, "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" represents a treasure for all unsure, awkward and ambitious readers.