Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: October 7 (TODAY!)
Source: Algonquin Books on NetGalley (A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.)
Check out this book on Goodreads.
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. (Source: Goodreads)
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel explores a number of different areas that affect all sorts of teens today. The most obvious is that Leila is a lesbian and the books deals extensively with how she feels about being a lesbian and how she deals with the issue of coming out. The book also deals with issues of race to a lesser extent because Leila is Persian and lives in a primarily, from the sounds of it, white neighborhood. The book also deals with issues of abuse and bullying, which are related to Leila being a lesbian. Friendship and family issues are also very important to the plot of this book. All-in-all there’s a lot going on, but it all plays out really well.
Leila is a good narrator. Her specific situation of being Persian means that you get an interesting look at cultural sensitivities and cultural ideals, especially as they deal with same-sex relationships. I liked Leila, though she was a little afraid which made her sometimes frustrating to be stuck with. Honestly though, her fear is to be expected. She was not only afraid of bullying from peers but also afraid of how her family would react, which she predicted would be really bad based on previous experience. Other characters in the book are probably developed a little more than Leila. Nahal, her sister, is really interesting too because you get this image of her being perfect but Nahal is really far from perfect, which becomes more and more clear throughout the book and it makes her really interesting. I probably would have liked to have seen more of Nahal in the book.
Leila’s friends are fairly well developed. Tess is shy though she is trying to break out of her shell more and more, which was really great to see. She blossoms by the end of the book and becomes a much stronger character. Greg was one of the less well developed characters and is used and mostly a tool throughout the book. Lisa is one of the strongest and most memorable characters in the book, her struggles with her feelings and with the loss of her brother breathe a lot of realism into the book. Lisa was probably one of my favourites.
Saskia is an important character, one that needs to be discussed a lot. Saskia starts out as this charming character who really sweeps you off your feet. This charm is really well executed and works so well because as it turns out Saskia is not so nice. It becomes clear pretty early on, though the full extent of it doesn’t come through until later. This turn from nice to mean is so well done, other books where women are in abusive relationships often miss the mark on this because the person is so clearly awful and you don’t understand what they doing together, but Saskia was charming and wonderful and really sucks you in, but then she really rips you to pieces and crushes you. It was really well written. Saskia is really where the issues of abusive come in because she is a very abusive person, and I think it’s well written stuff and deals with the issue of abusive relationships beyond the male-abuser female-victim stereotype. I think she’s an important and well developed character to the book, even if she is highly unlikeable.
Minor characters are not developed nearly as well. This is kind of an issue because there is some level of stereotyping in this book. The popular kids are cool, slutty, alcoholics, the tech girls are stereotypical lesbians even though they aren’t lesbians (and even though they’re used to make an important point about stereotypes, they’re still stereotypes), even Saskia plays into the stereotype of the girl who experiments with women, and does Leila’s first crush from camp, because they’re basically movie lesbians, not even developed bisexual characters, just women who are interested in having sex with anyone for fun and to get what they want. These stereotypes are part of the reason this book doesn’t get full marks from me.
The issues of family and friends are key to this book too. Leila really struggles with admitting that she is a lesbian, and this is partly because she’s afraid of how people will react. The thing is, this isn’t really (in my opinion) done to full extent that it could have been. Everything wraps up too neatly and really leaves all of these important issues of being left behind by friends or being rejected because of who you are and who you love kind of…abandoned and untouched. Yes, Leila agonizes over it for the entire book, but it all ends up as wasted energy. This was the other main reason I couldn’t give this book full marks, it was too neatly tied up in the end.
Overall, I think the quality of the writing it quite good. The plot is fantastic, and really an important topic to write about. I think the characterization ranges from okay to really excellent. I would recommend this book to fans of YA books.