[Dreamers] consists of a set of compelling profiles ... The book’s strength lies in its shoe-leather detail; many of the chapters were developed as articles for the New Delhi-based Hindustan Times, where she works. Ms. Poonam goes to unremarkable places and hangs out with ordinary people ... There are many such gems in the book. In the hands of a lesser reporter they would simply sound farcical. But Ms. Poonam writes about these men—there are few women in her profiles—with empathy and portrays them convincingly as part of a larger social phenomenon ... Ms. Poonam’s reporting focuses on the lack of jobs and shortage of skills, but ultimately the story she tells suggests a bigger political narrative behind these stories.
Poonam profiles several young men whose aspirations belie their circumstances and whose thirst for recognition seems at times all-consuming ... Dreamers takes for granted that it’s already too late for millions upon millions of young people, that no economic miracle will scoop them up smoothly from poverty and obscurity. What interests Poonam is how they make do in the absence of an economy that works for them, the ways they try to make better or at least bigger lives for themselves ... Poonam might have arrived at a somewhat different picture of this restless generation had she spent time in other parts of the country like the south, where the BJP is much less popular, and where religious communities live in considerably greater harmony. A country of India’s size is always more than its heartland.
[A] perceptive, useful book on an important topic … Poonam is clear-eyed on the challenges the youth of the Indian population present … These young people are hitting adulthood with the cultural values of their grandparents―socially conservative, sexually timid, God-fearing―but the life goals of American teenagers: money and fame, Poonam points out. They are the most global young Indians ever, but with the narrowest ideas of what it means to be Indian.
Poonam has a gift for finding the most telling stories of our time and constructs a powerful argument ... But Dreamers isn’t a hopeful book. These youngsters, as Poonam goes on to show, are outliers. Their success is perilously difficult ... In Dreamers, we encounter two sets of young Indians. With virtually no help, one is determined to build India. The other will break it.
A harrowing new book ... Dreamers smashes the slick hype that has been constructed around India’s aspiring middle classes, calling our attention to the corruption, frustration, and dashed hopes bubbling beneath the surface. It may be convenient for India’s elites to whitewash these inconvenient truths. But, as Poonam shows, it would also be suicidal.