Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Review: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Release date: October 7th, 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Series: No
Source: eARC via Edelweiss
Length: 304 pages
Rating: This book is nearly everything I want, but I didn't love it the way I wanted, though it's certainly not bad.


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.

Nooooooooooooo. You guys, I wanted to love this book SO HARD. MY BODY WAS READY. And maybe my body was too ready, because as good as some parts of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is, it failed to live up to the enormous promise of its premise.
Me too, Brit Brit. Me too.

Laila I was quite fond of, and I really enjoyed her funny, often judgmental character, and I certainly sympathized with her struggles. She grows so much in this book. Originally, she makes a lot of snap judgments and assumptions about people, all while managing to keep up an extremely convincing facade herself. Gradually, she comes to see that all people have secrets and hidden layers, and that most of her snap judgments are wrong. And that hiding yourself behind a facade, and denying a part of yourself, is no way to live.

This book positively shines when it deals with Laila's culture, her family, and sexuality, together and apart, but it's less successful dealing with her school atmosphere and secondary characters. I went to a prep school vaguely similar to Laila's (though, thankfully, far more liberal and diverse), and while I see what Farizan is going for, the world she built didn't feel very believable to me. None of the kids were quite fleshed out enough, or real enough. The school worked in ways I've never heard of any school working.

And then there's the romance, which has a rather obvious conclusion. You understand why Laila is entranced by bold, beautiful, interesting Saskia who seems to see who Laila is (but OBVIOUSLY) does not. The reader can tell what Laila should do (and who Laila should go for), but it's understandable why Laila doesn't. But still, it wasn't as enjoyable a story of first "love" as I'd thought it would be, and it wasn't quite at sharp when it came to the social commentary. But hearing Laila's often funny commentary of the realities of being deeply in the closet was gold.

Where this book did move me is the clash Laila feels between her reality and her parent's expectations. I adored the way Farizan portrayed Laila's traditional Persian parents raising two American daughters and the big Persian get-togethers of all the Persian families in the neighborhood. Laila is far from a perfect daughter, unlike her med student elder sister, and she feels it keenly. I mean, apart from the whole "I like girls" thing, Laila is terrible at science, has no Harvard med school dreams, hates to work out, and is not stick skinny. (Of course, these are all things that endear her to me, but less so to her father, who truly wants the best for her but of course is utterly unaware of what is actually best.)

When Laila deals with these issues and the stress of potentially coming out to her conservative families and her white-washed, WASPy school peers, I loved this book. When she's being messed with by Saskia or dealing with any of the teenage drama of her school, this book lost me. The pacing was too quick, and I never quite grabbed onto anyone besides Laila herself. It's such a huge shame, because parts of the end are really lovely, and there should be more books like this. The diversity in this book is so important, and what's more, it's not remotely preachy. It's just the story of a girl who happens to be gay and happens to be Persian and this is her story, because there are millions of girls who also have this story. So for all of that, I give this book tremendous credit, but it kills me that I can't give it too much more than that.


  1. DARN. This sounds a lot like what was good and not so good about her debut. Even the romance dynamics sound kinda similar, with the more ordinary girl into the super compelling girl. If the heroine were a dude, these romances would be compared to John Green, I think. Which is fine on some level, because people do get drawn to the wrong sort of person. And there are people who are vastly compelling to everyone. BUT it doesn't really bring the feels for me to read about that. It's that and just the characters never feeling quite fully fleshed. They're realistic enough, but not vibrant and leaping off the page, you know? I'll probably not prioritize this one.

  2. It's reeeeally interesting to me that you felt this way about this one because this is very, very similar to how I felt about her first book. I'm glad that this book is getting out there but I'm sad that she hasn't seemed to be able to improve on that... lack of connection, almost, with her storytelling. Le sigh.


Note: comments on posts older than 90 days are automatically moderated, so they won't show up here immediately. Thanks for commenting! :)