In this charming YA debut, a girl who’s determined to prove her star chart wrong ropes her longtime best friend into a relationship experiment—not knowing that he has been in love with her for years.
Is it possible to change your fate?
Madhuri Iyer is doomed. Doomed for her upcoming senior year to be a total failure, according to her astrology-obsessed mother, and doomed to a happily ever after with her first boyfriend, according to her family curse.
Determined to prove the existence of her free will, Madhuri devises an experimental relationship with the one boy she knows she’ll never fall for: her childhood best friend, Arjun Mehta. But Arjun’s feelings for her are a variable she didn’t account for.
As Madhuri starts to fall for her experimental boyfriend, she’ll have to decide if charting her own destiny is worth breaking Arjun’s heart—and her own.
Start reading the first chapter of Kismat Connection down below!
Chapter 1: Arjun
“The stars are absolutely in your favor.”
A smile twisted Arjun Mehta’s lips, his cosmic black eyes twinkling at the middle-aged woman sitting with her legs crossed in front of him. A fresh set of scratches blossomed on his skin, thanks to the mangled mat they sat on. Every year he’d have his astrological chart read, which meant pulling out the neon orange rug beforehand. He called it his good-luck charm.
“You’re sure, Auntie Iyer?” Arjun asked, leaning forward with interest.
Auntie Iyer wasn’t actually his aunt, but rather a next-door neighbor turned family friend. Like most Indian children, Arjun was raised to refer to the elders in his community by either Auntie or Uncle. The title was often used as a sign of respect, but Arjun saw it differently. Auntie Iyer was as much a part of his life as his own mother, and referring to her as an Aunt made their connection feel more concrete, even though it didn’t stem from a pure blood tie.
“Have I ever been wrong?” When Arjun clicked his tongue in defeat, Auntie Iyer laughed. “Your senior year is characterized by one word: balance. Your hard work will be rewarded in the fields of education, athletics, and love, though there will be multiple obstacles in your path.”
Arjun’s heart slammed exactly twice through his rib cage. Once in fear. Once in hope.
“Love?” he sputtered. “We both know I’m not the most eligible bachelor in town.”
That was a lie.
A total of fifteen thousand people lived in their town. His graduating class consisted of 122 seniors and Arjun knew from experience that a majority of his classmates did not find him attractive. That was, until his junior year of high school, when his culture became a trend.
In elementary school, Auntie Iyer would pack him lemon rice for lunch whenever his parents forgot, and his classmates would bully him half to death about its neon yellow color. Now they asked if he could make them “Golden Milk,” a newly trademarked Starbucks drink born from the same yellow turmeric that stained his rice. The girls that once scorned his bronzed skin, calling it a tan that had somehow lost its way, now attached themselves to his arm. They marveled at his curly black hair as if his features had transformed from uncomfortably alien to fetishizably exotic. His town had expanded its palate to include him last year, but that didn’t mean he wanted to appease their picky taste buds.
“You know better than anyone that the stars never lie,” Auntie Iyer said as if she could read his mind. When he didn’t respond, she placed a hand on his cheek. “Are you okay, beta?”
Arjun was suddenly overwhelmed with heartburn so severe it scorched his intestines to a crisp. He wondered if his body was trying to distract him from what the stars could mean for his relationship with a certain someone…
Who just so happened to be Auntie Iyer’s beloved daughter.
He knew better than anyone that Madhuri Iyer couldn’t give two shits about astrology, or about anything Indian, for that matter. Himself included. Even if his prophecy indicated romance and even if that involved her, Madhuri wouldn’t let it happen. As much as he hoped otherwise, Arjun knew that if it was Madhuri versus destiny, she’d win. Hands down.
“I’m alright,” he responded after a beat of hesitation. “Do you know any more information? Anything concrete I can keep an eye out for?”
Auntie Iyer scanned his charts from the past seventeen years, breathing life into the stacks of paper littering the floor. He was overwhelmed by the memories flying out of the pages, their edges frayed and made brittle by time. He saw the first time he scored a goal as the varsity lacrosse team captain, his school cheering his name louder than any sound he’d ever heard before. The first time his teammates lifted him on their shoulders when they won the state championships. The first time Madhuri lunged at him to celebrate, clinging from his shoulders like she was meant to be wrapped in his arms. He recalled the way her smile sparkled like an undiscovered galaxy, as if she were seeing him in a way she never had before.
“You’re going to be given an opportunity by a woman who shields you from reason, and sometimes even basic common sense.” Auntie Iyer’s lips widened into a toothy grin. “She will have rejected you on multiple occasions and will continue to do so until she faces the truth of her feelings for you. And when that happens, it is up to you to decide if she is too late or right on time.”
“Great,” Arjun muttered. “The stars are sticking me with a girl who doesn’t even want to love me. You’re sure you’re not interpreting this wrong?”
Auntie Iyer lifted a neatly threaded eyebrow, peering at him through her rounded spectacles. Her expression twisted into a deadly combination of hurt and annoyance. It was only a matter of time before she threw her chappal at him.
“I haven’t read a chart wrong in my forty-four years of life. You should know better than to ask that,” she chastised. “Have you suddenly turned into Madhuri? Do you need me to beg you to have faith in something other than cold logic?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. You should know better than to think that of me.” He cut his eyes at her, throwing his hands up in defense in case a slipper went flying at his head. Arjun was being disrespectful, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t want a prophecy to be the reason he fell in love, especially not when it had Madhuri’s name written all over it.
To say he and Madhuri had been best friends for years would be an understatement. When Arjun thought of his life as he knew it, he saw Madhuri. She was a constant, a single thread of gold bridging his past and his future, and he had long concluded that a world without her would be thoroughly mundane.
The truth was Arjun had fallen hopelessly in love with Madhuri by the ripe age of thirteen. And now, four years later, he was still trailing after her with hearts in his eyes, too afraid to speak up out of fear that he might lose the best friend he’d ever known. He’d nearly lost her once before—in their freshman year of high school after a particularly upsetting fight. In the aftermath, he’d resolved to never risk their stability again, not even for his own feelings.
Arjun was forced out of his thoughts when Auntie’s chappal connected with his face. “Ow!” he yelled, scrunching his nose in anguish. “What was that for?”
“Disrespect.” Auntie Iyer huffed. “I’ll ask you one more time. Are you okay?”
He wanted to answer her, he really did. Madhuri, however, had other plans.
“Amma!” A shriek echoed through the living room. Madhuri’s nimble fingers ran through her waist-length hair as she glared at the two of them, unquenchable flames blazing away in her pupils. “Are you seriously reading his chart? No one in the twenty-first century even believes in astrology other than you!”
Auntie Iyer rolled her eyes. “Spare us the theatrics. You have your chart read every year, but you’re too embarrassed by your own culture to own it. Arjun, at the very least, is proud to be here with me. You could learn a thing or two from him.”
“Mom!” Madhuri hissed, this time in English. Arjun couldn’t help but chuckle at how dramatic she was. As soon as the sound left his lips, Madhuri spun on her heel to face him. “And what exactly are you laughing at?”
“Nothing,” Arjun said. “Maybe you should sit down with us. You’ve never missed our annual reading before, so why start now?”
Before Madhuri could explode into another temper tantrum, Arjun reached for her hand. Their palms connected and she fell to the floor soon after, leaning her head onto his shoulder. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
Arjun smiled to himself. He knew her way too well. Her outbursts never lasted for longer than a few minutes, and they ended even quicker when he was there beside her. They were better as a pair, even if it would only ever be platonic.
Auntie Iyer flipped through her papers again and pulled out a bulky leather-bound book with a bow and arrow embossed on the cover in gold. Sagittarius in every way, Madhuri was her family’s miracle child—astrologically speaking, that was. Every single planet of hers had fallen into the embrace of the Archer.
“Do you want the honest truth?” Auntie Iyer sighed.
“Obviously,” Madhuri snapped.
Her mother averted her eyes back to the pages. “Your stars are conflicted. You, simply put, are going to crash and burn in your senior year. That’s how the teens say it now, correct?”
Arjun raised an eyebrow at the information. Madhuri never failed. She was the kind of person who’d win every game, ace every test, beat every bully—whether she tried or not. He’d always envied that about her, not that he’d ever admit it.
“Crash and burn? Is that really all you have to say about my chart?”
“Fine, I’ll move on to more tangible developments.” Auntie Iyer held up two air quotes when she said the word tangible. “You’re arrogant. You’re used to success and that comfort will result in your downfall. You’ll face a future where you can’t quite reach first place the way you used to.”
Madhuri scoffed and squeezed Arjun’s hand twice. A cry for help. They’d come up with the signal in fourth grade when Arjun was being bullied for spending all his free time with a girl.
This was the first time Madhuri had ever used it.
“You’re so full of it, Amma. I’m not going to fail. I never do.”
“That’s the exact arrogance I’m talking about.”
Madhuri ignored the snark. “What do you even mean by downfall? That’s awfully vague. Am I going to crash and burn in academics? In social activities? In romance?”
Arjun choked on air when he heard the last part. Neither of the women noticed him.
“You’re not going to fail, but you won’t succeed as easily as you’re used to.” Auntie Iyer removed a sheet of paper from the book and pointed to the different angles between each planet, their orbits drawn by hand. “All of your alignments are disastrously weak, which means your internal compass leading you toward growth is damaged. Expect mediocre grades, misunderstood emotions, and failed relationships.”
“I don’t believe you. This unevidenced magic of yours doesn’t fool anyone but Arjun, and he’s hopeless.”
“It’s Vedic astrology, not unevidenced magic. If you’re going to insult the craft, you might as well use the proper terminology.” Auntie Iyer didn’t even bother to comment on her daughter’s tone, sporting a poker face instead. “Besides, you and I both know that these readings are not meant to be a foolproof prophecy, but rather an opportunity to reflect on the elements highlighted in your chart. At the end of the day, your destiny is entirely in your control.”
Arjun cut in, his gaze lasered solely on Madhuri. “You think I’m hopeless? Believing in something larger than yourself is not hopeless. Bonding yourself to your culture is not hopeless, but it’s not like you would understand. You’re too busy whitewashing yourself to please the awful people in our town.”
Madhuri gasped, yanking her hand out of Arjun’s. “Take that back.”
“No. Someone needed to put you in your place.”
“You think you’re so high and mighty because you act more Indian than me,” Madhuri whispered, her once-playful voice now gaining an edge. “I watch the same Bollywood movies as you. I have my chart read annually. I eat Indian food three times a day, every day. I just don’t parade through the streets, waving my ethnicity around like a flag, like you do.”
Before Arjun could bite back with an equally heated retort, Auntie Iyer scrambled to her feet and clapped her hands. “My ears are bleeding. Will you two, for the love of Krishna, shut up?”
“But you started this!” Arjun exclaimed. “What about our horoscopes? Our senior year?”
“My world doesn’t revolve around you two, sadly.” Auntie Iyer was smiling, so he had a feeling she wasn’t that sad about it at all. She snapped the book shut, a burst of dust leaving the pages on impact. “You will figure it out. You always do.”
And then, much to Arjun’s dismay, Auntie Iyer winked at him.