Mindy Kaling’s self-assured, quirky, unabashedly feminine quality makes her an ideal imaginary gal-pal for those who share her general sensibilities; she’s like a more relatable Zooey Deschanel. She’s just as irreverently funny and genuinely invested when writing about her love of shopping, fad diets, and celebrities as she is in describing her formative comedy experiences and writing for The Office. Her new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a collection of chatty, lightweight anecdotes and bite-sized listicles on topics like the types of women in romantic comedies and the rights and responsibilities of best friends. Thankfully, Kaling embraces her flaws, embarrassments, and insecurities with an appealing frankness that makes ruminations on “The Exact Level Of Fame I Want” come across as irreverent and charming rather than needy.
Irreverence and charm go a long way toward making Is Everyone Hanging Out a fun, easy read, but the book is almost too offhand for its own good, lacking connective tissue or broader themes to keep things grounded between the many short asides about cupcakes and the confusing nature of the term “hooking up.” The anecdotes go down easy, but have little resonance beyond the chuckles and knowing smiles they induce. The book’s strongest sections are those where Kaling dives a little deeper, as in the titular chapter, where she traces the familiar adolescent experience of leaving the safety of a clique she had less and less in common with for a new friend who shared and nurtured her growing love of comedy. Her struggles as a big fish in the small pond of Dartmouth College emerging into a vast, scary ocean of failure upon moving to New York, or her self-effacing recollection of her less-than-memorable stint guest-writing on Saturday Night Live are similarly endearing, and more emotionally resonant than bloggish asides like “In Defense Of Chest Hair” and “Why Do Men Take So Long To Put On Their Shoes?” In the first half of the book, these short, quippy asides come across as tasty morsels between the heartier stories about her adolescence and young-adulthood, but as Kaling moves away from her past and into her present, they start to seem more and more like padding—the self-explanatory, image-filled section “These Are The Narcissistic Photos In My Blackberry” being the most egregious space-filler.
In the book’s introduction, Kaling perhaps unwisely summons the specter of Tina Fey’s Bossypants, tacitly acknowledging that her book won’t live up to Fey comparisons. As with everything else in the book, it’s a likeably self-effacing remark, but it’s also pretty apt. Like Fey, Kaling tempers everything she writes with humor, and she has a well-honed, appealing voice. But unlike Fey, Kaling doesn’t seem like she has much to say.