I didn’t love the author’s debut novel, but wanted to see what a second novel would offer, and sadly it really is a lot of the same: light funny romcom surface story featuring a Bangladeshi Muslim character lead mixed in with layers of mental health, a toxic family, high school stress, and cultural expectations driving the plot. There is crude language, hetero, lesbian, bi, and pansexual relationships discussed, but nothing more than kissing is detailed in any of the scenes. There is a lot of cultural trauma from the parents and to the book’s credit, it does establish pretty early on that the main character is not religious, but that she does believe in Allah swt. Similarly, there is a Bangladeshi loving family in the story, so it is not making a critique on the entire culture, it is just the character’s family that is cruel. Ultimately, at 416 pages I was surprised that there were gaps in character arcs and plot. I never really liked the protagonist, Mina, but because of how underdeveloped and pivotal the best friend and younger sister were, when it all came to a climax, I found myself rooting for her, which is a very shallow reasoning in an OWN voice book. Additionally, the parents are terrible, and had I dnf-ed it (I was tempted until about 30% through it) I doubt I would have ever known that there was a time that they weren’t terrors. The peeling back of the layers of the family came too late, too slow, and the progression was muddled. I probably will not actively seek out further books from this author if the same themes and tropes are present, if she changes it up, I probably could be persuaded. The book is marketed 7th grade and up, but with the triggers, hate, language, content, genre, language, length I would say 17 and up, if at all.
Samina “Mina” Rahman is waiting to leave New York and her hateful parents, and start her life at USC as a film student. All she needs to do is win the Golden Ivy Film Competition, and get excepted to USC. Her parents dismissing her dreams, passions, and abilities agree to only let her leave if she wins the competition, doubting that it would ever happen, they even put it in writing. Co-president of the high school film club and best friend, Rosie is equally determined to win, there is just one big problem, every year the winning film has a cameo by a famous actor. Cue accidental meeting of Mina and Emmitt Ramos, up and coming indie movie heart throb that is cast in the new Firebrand blockbuster. Sent to Mina’s high school to research for his upcoming role, Mina is tasked with convincing him to make an appearance in their film. It is a romance story, so you can see where it is headed in this enemies to lovers book.
As family, friends, and college admission stresses mount, the simplicity of what Mina wants and how to go about getting it will be called in to question as her walls crumble and she will have to evaluate people in her life and how they will be affected by her actions.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that the story is based on real events in the author’s life, not just the religion, culture, mental health threads, but that an actor came to her high school in preparation for a part: Tom Holland. I also like that while her parents don’t value her, she has found a support group of sorts that do. At times Mina reads a lot older than she is, particularly when she is admonishing the freshman, but at other times she storms off pouting and seems to be very childish. I vacillate between this being intentional and it being an inconsistency in the writing. The younger sister Anam is painfully written. She is bold and confrontational, yet at the same time so clingy and needy and all over the place. At one point I thought she perhaps was suicidal and was braced for a really dark twist in the story, but no it was just Anam being Anam, I suppose, and the stress was never revisited let alone resolved.
I truly dreaded the passages about Mina’s home life and her family, they all were just awful to each other and rather than taking Mina’s side because I was shown, I found myself questioning what I was missing in the before and after dynamic. It is clear they are wretched, the victim doesn’t need to justify the abuse. The transformation of the family dynamic just felt lacking and in fiction when parts are explored it could have really showed some of the micro aggressions and changes that existed and made the relationship salvageable so that the reader would understand why saving and fixing the family were no longer options. Generational trauma is real and serious and a little more attention I think could have provided an amazing mirror to readers dealing with similar elements.
If the book was half the length I would assume that details would be glossed over, but this book had room, and I don’t understand why so few photography and director references seem to find their way into the text to show that these characters truly are passionate about what they are claiming to desire. I know the story isn’t a film story or a culture story, but they don’t spend hours editing the film or working on props? Emmitt is regularly pulled away from shoots, but always seems to have enough photos to choose from? Mina talks of her dad cooking, but foods aren’t detailed, the connection of food to love to family and that being severed seemed like a gaping hole in the crumbling home scenes. If halal food and no pork can make it into a love relationship, that much cultural/religious depth should have made it inside a families home.
As mentioned in the intro, it didn’t bother me from a religious perspective that Mina was off kissing a boy, that Anam had boyfriends, etc. because Islam was accounted for and the characters are not practicing, so I do appreciate that it didn’t become a stereotypical rebelling against religion book. Truly, thank you.
Language, relationships (straight, bi, lesbian, pan), kissing, making out, hand holding, lying, mental health, hate, deception, cruelty, emotional abuse, angry ex boyfriend, triggers.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
Would not shelve or encourage young readers at our Islamic school to read this.