After a demanding semester during which many life decisions were made over many cups of coffee, it’s great to be back on the blog 🙂 If you read my previous post Why I’ve Been Blog-Quiet, you’ll know that this book’s review was set for the presses in February (!). Then, the first of many rattling executive orders from the 45th president was announced. The Muslim Ban, targeting Iranian immigrants among others, was scarily relevant to this book’s protagonist. The event rattled me into a long state of pondering and critical evaluation.
Thanks to encouragement from friends, on and outside the blog world, I’ve decided to finally publish the review. As the work from the semester subsides, I am excited to re-start blogging.
With much love, I share with you a wonderful book:
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan is the treat of a YA novel that you deserve (to read snuggled in a blanket, eating your favorite after-school snack, laughing uncontrollably).
This book was recommended with great enthusiasm by the lovely Sue from Hollywood News Source! And am I glad that she did.
It’s hard not to get on protagonist Leila’s side from the start. She is personally endangered by her clumsiness at sports. She’s not particularly winsome. And she’s certainly not as smart as her perfect Harvard pre-med sister, Nahal. Leila’s just an observant, sarcastic junior trying to lay low at her elite private school, just not quite un-popular enough to get by.
Leila’s noble goal, however, is unsettled by the entrance of Saskia, the gorgeous new girl in school. No, not gorgeous. Saskia is cosmopolitan, sexy, impulsive, and looks like she “just walked out of a Garnier Fructis commercial.”
Nobody at her school, not even her parents, know that Leila is attracted to girls. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is in part a coming-out story, but mostly a coming-into-oneself story, a realizing-multiple-dimensions-of-love story.
What I loved most about the book, besides how hilarious it is, is its complex, representation of an Iranian American family. Leila is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who have high expectations of Leila and Nahal. But Sara Farizan, who also grew up with Iranian immigrant parents, upends stereotypes. She describes the joyful, loving, awkward moments between Leila and her parents.
Dad rolls his window down and turns up the volume, yelling the song in Farsi on Route 128, trying to make me laugh but really just making me embarrassed. He laughs after a while and rolls the window up.
“Okay, enough torture. You can listen to your butt songs.”
Farizan also renders with tenderness Leila’s coming-out to her mother. It’s one of my favorite scenes. I feel like I’ve read so many depictions of stereotypically stern, demanding Asian and Middle Eastern parents that I’m surprised to read parents who actually seem like humans, like my own. It’s pretty telling about how the book world direly needs more literary parents like Leila’s. Nahal, too, turns out to have more surprises than even Leila thought.
I recommended this book to a Lebanese American friend, and when she finished, she told me that she relished the passages on Leila’s legendary family gatherings. Through Leila’s eyes, details of Middle Eastern culture felt warm and familiar to her – sumptuous descriptions of food and clothing, probing but well-intentioned questions from aunts, resigning oneself to hanging out with the little kids.
Again, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is only in part a coming-out story. There’s a debacle about school play (two plays, in fact), friendships that grow and are tested over time (as with Leila’s steadfast friends Tess and Greg), and good ol’ dramatic private school scheming (sorry, but it couldn’t be set in a private school without it). All of this is grounded by a protagonist who is sarcastic, down-to-earth, and who shows genuine kindness and bravery in unassuming ways.
Have you read Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel? Are there any other stories with awesome LGBTQ characters of color, or non-stereotypical POC parents, that you recommend?
Also, if you’re familiar with my previous reviews, you’ll notice that they’re often much longer and evaluate literature through an academic lens. (See these ones on The Sun is Also a Star and Written in the Stars). While I love this elaborate style, I’ve experimented with this shorter one, just to try something new. What are your thoughts?