So I haven’t posted in a while due to some unforeseen busy schedule. I had to
shamefully pay a fine for some overdue library books because I had only read two books in the last three weeks. But things look to be freeing up so I am forcing myself out of a writing and reading slump to write a review on Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan.
I enjoyed this book so much and I’m very excited to read more Sara Farizan books, queer and/or PoC YA novels and other contemporaries. Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel would also be a good introduction for people who want to explore such genres – and really, anyone who will listen to me rave about it. This book is both charmingly innocent and powerfully moving. Many people will be able to relate and empathise with our heroine’s adolescent life goal to belong, find happiness and come into your identity. It gives an endearing perspective of an Iranian-American teenager struggling with her sexuality in a simple but heart-warming story.
As far as first impressions go, Tell Me Again had been a top contender from my last book haul for it’s adorable cover, engaging premise and the first few pages I had skimmed through already had me falling in love with Leila. I had very high expectations for it and it certainly met most of those, Sara Farizan now becoming one of my favourite voices in the YA genre. However, I’ve taken off some points off of it and I’ll go through the reasons for that first.
Though I enjoyed the narrative in the perspective of Leila, it played in my head somewhat like an episode of Glee. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I was a fan of Glee but it can become a little over-dramatic and unrealistic perspective of high school drama at times. Personally, I would have preferred a slower and subtler introductions to her feelings of being ‘an outcast’ and being different. She seemed to have laid it on thick right from the start; its descriptions dragged on longer than it should have and it didn’t feel very meaningful. In this case, less is more because – as I have mentioned – many people can relate to this identity crisis in our teenage years. A little warning, second-hand embarrassment is strong in this one. The situations and events that brings about this humiliation can be a bit cliché and kind of feels lazy.
Thankfully, they don’t dwell on it too long and we get to move on safely. Once things really get going, the story flows more smoothly and we start to understand and get to know more of the interesting cast of characters. I’ll give this book points for bringing in some unpredictability and allow us to experience the same surprise that Leila feels as she, herself learns more of the world and the people around her. It really puts into perspective how we judge people’s characters from our impression of them.
The dialogue has its shining moments, but can become cheesy at some crucial points. It does feel very free flowing and reminds me a little bit like a Rainbow Rowell novel, which is always a bright vibe. There are times that her thoughts can also go off on a tangent a little too long and disconnect you from the present scene but luckily this is quickly salvaged and we’re back to Leila’s loveable wit and humour – and she is very lovable, indeed.
Typically, I steer clear of high school girl narratives because it can feel immature despite big vocabularies and complex plot themes. But, Leila is a breath of fresh air in a sense that she starts growing and developing as a person right off the bat. Her innocence and gullible view of her friends, other students and, even, her family members, would usually be a point of a rant for me, considering how smart and intelligent she actually is. However, something about it that is endearing; she finds the good in people and hardly picks up on anything that doesn’t fit their good-natured character. When she does eventually realise these, it surprises her but it doesn’t shock her, quickly accepting something new she learns about their complexities and influences her understanding of the world and her own self.
Her expectations of other people perfectly fitting into the status-quo that she is still quietly navigating are reminiscent of feelings all teenagers have. There’s this admiration and slight jealousy that others around you have found themselves, their dreams and their goals when in reality, we are all still blind and constantly searching for a clear path and a ‘right’ way to live our lives. She will also come to befriend many others who will widen her perspective and right the prejudicial first impressions of certain stereotypes which is very touching.
Our character is a PoC but there isn’t much focus on ‘racial struggles’ which is a relief because the main focus should be her sexuality and coming into her identity, much more important than the constrictions of her racial background. It does, however, adds in the little moments that irks me the most, as a PoC myself. Things such as getting mistaken for another nationality, people’s small remarks of your parent’s pronunciation of words and other small comments that is only slightly insulting but very tiring to deal with. These pet peeves are enough for me, as a representation of PoC ‘struggles’ because day-to-day life matters just as much as the big issues that we have to put up with.
“I also began to notice how white everything was. The students, the students’ teeth, and the fences surrounding the outdoor swimming pools we never used. We all seemed to categorize ourselves without ever explicitly saying anything. Where does that leave students who don’t have a clear category?”
-Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel
The most important part of this story is the family dynamics and this was done incredibly well. I was moved to tears on several occasions; those times were not overly dramatic or complicated but, rather, subtle and small moments that were very meaningful. Leila’s family feels real and candid, including the embarrassing, feel-good and even, boring, mundane scenes of family life felt genuine. Her parents come from a different country, a different culture, and Leila is consciously aware of this but she doesn’t ‘hate’ that she, herself, is different.
Often, her actions show how grateful she is and how much she appreciates her family despite what other people think of her. This, of course, adds to the guilt of disappointing them because of her sexuality. She’s scared of scaring them, potentially getting disowned for being someone that – back in her parents’ country – would have been a punishable crime! (This is something that is explored more in Farizan’s other novel, If You Could Be Mine.)
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
I was right in assuming the diversity portrayal (both race and sexuality) would be spot on, regardless of the points taken off, I can relate and understand her thoughts very well. Though this book is light-hearted compared to Farizan’s other novel focused on a darker theme of Iranian culture, it managed to tug at the heartstrings just as much. Consider me a big Sara Farizan fan from this moment on. I would love to read If You Could Be Mine and experience a much more complex story, I think she does an incredible job at putting across her feelings for a person of minority and really bringing a new voice to the world. Overall, I will be giving Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel, a total of four cups!
I really need to find myself a more consistent blog schedule. But, as it stands right now, I’m vulnerable to random hiatuses and I’m expecting to get busier as we’re on our last three months of the year (already!). These times are quite packed, considering it’ll be Halloween, my birthday and then Christmas!
Have you read Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine? If so, how did you like it? I’m definitely going to get myself a copy of that. I’d also love to read more queer and diversity contemporaries, got any recommendations?