Tuesday 23 July 2019

#CBR11 Book 50: "Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel" by Sara Farizan

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR11 Bingo: Rainbow Flag (author is a lesbian, as is the main character)

Official book description:
Leila has made it most of the way through high school without having a crush on anyone, which comes as something of a relief. Her Persian heritage makes her different enough; if word got out that Leila liked girls, life would be twice as hard. And what would her parents think? It’s bad enough she’s not even going to become a doctor. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never dreamed of, 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 Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all of her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

One of my goals for Pride month was to read more diversely from my TBR shelf. So I wanted to read at least one book with gay protagonists, one with a trans character and this is my book about lesbians. This is another one of those books that has been on my TBR shelf for years and years. I bought it in an e-book sale because it had decent reviews and sounded cute, and then I forgot about it. Sorry, book, you deserved to be read.

Leila struggles to fit in at the fancy prep school where she's a student. She doesn't feel like she fits in, and while she knows her father wants her to get good grades in science, so she can become a doctor (her father is a doctor, her older sister is a med student), she really just cannot muster any enthusiasm for the subject. Then there's the fact that she's gay. There's pretty much only one openly gay kid, Tomas, in her school and Leila finds him rather insufferable. There's also the fact that Leila's family are Muslim, her parents are from Iran and the one family in their friend group whose son came out as gay now no longer speaks about him. It's not even like he died, it's as if the guy never existed in the first place. Leila is terrified that something similar will happen to her if her family discover she's a lesbian.

But then Saskia transfers into Leila's school, and everything changes. Because of Saskia, Leila finds herself doing school theatre (she accidentally farts loudly during her audition, so becomes an understudy) and finds that she really enjoys being a stage technician. She gets to know Tomas better, as he's the other stage director, and maybe he's not so bad, after all? The strange and often hostile female tech crew (who it's rumoured are all lesbians) welcome Leila with open arms (spoiler - not a single one of them are gay - they just don't care to conform to the usual high school standards). Saskia also takes Leila shopping and invites her to big, unsupervised parties, where Leila, to be honest, is quite uncomfortable.

As time passes, it becomes clear that Saskia may be a bit too much of a cool girl for Leila to handle. She seems to send very mixed signals, has a very mercurial temper and eventually ends up seducing one of Leila's close friends. This upsets both Leila, who thought Saskia genuinely liked her, and her best friend, who had been unhappily pining about said guy for ages. It becomes pretty obvious that while she's beautiful and alluring, Saskia is a Regina George. Leila is far better off with her other friends.

There was so much I liked about this book. While Leila constantly worries about her parents' approval, they really did seem very loving and supportive throughout. I was not at all surprised that her seemingly perfect sister had struggles of her own, and might not be quite as goody goody as she seemed at first, and she always had Leila's back, even when she was doing things they both knew their parents would be unhappy about.

For all that Leila feels rather alone at school, she has some very good friends, and when she starts working with the drama crew, she makes a bunch more of them. She's dazzled by Saskia at first, but comes to see just how toxic she is and how important it is to have people who really care about you (even if they might seem a bit boring in day to day interactions).

Sara Farizan has written several more books and short stories about queer teens, and I'm going to be on the lookout for more of her stuff. This book ticks a lot of diversity boxes (heroine and author of colour, culture clash between Muslim family and American high school life, LGBTQIA etc), but was also just an entertaining and good read.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm going to be entirely honest and say that the rather boring cover is probably one of the reasons why this book languished so long on my TBR shelf. All that pastel pink, with barely a hint of some faces at the top and bottom - it's not the most exciting or inviting of covers, is it?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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