Thank you to Hodder Books and Netgalley for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.
I was really disappointed when I read this book. I was hoping to see nuanced Muslim rep in this book however that is not what was in this book.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
High school senior Danyal Jilani may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s cute and funny and is going to make a great chef one day – if his father doesn’t kill that dream first. However, if he’s going to secure a good arranged marriage – with, for example, his gorgeous classmate Kaval – he knows he needs to step up his game.
When Danyal gets picked to be his class’s representative for The Renaissance Man, a prestigious school-wide academic championship, no one is more surprised than him. Knowing he’ll never get through it on his own, he recruits the help of uninspiring potential marriage match Bisma. At first they’re just study partners, but the more time they spend together, the more Danyal learns from her, the more he cooks for her – the more he realises that happiness might just be staring him in the face. But Bisma has dark secrets in her past that could rock the Northern California desi community to its very core . . .
I was really excited about this book, it sounded so cute and while the story between Danyal and Bisma was kinda cute I had some serious issues with the Muslim rep. The story between Danyal and Bisma was nice and there were some good parts especially the discussion on colonialism and whitewashing of history I found that culture and Islamic practices are often confused and mixed together and presented as one and the same which I had issues with as the cultural practices often contradict the Islamic practices. The Islamic practices were also really twisted to suit whatever point the author was making which I found really irritating as it would create more misconceptions about Islam.
How the explanations of aspects of Islam were explained seemed a bit weird at times too. I didn’t understand why some things were written in the way that they were. For example, the way the reasoning for arranged marriages were explained, essentially a halal way to have sex had me doing a double take and that wasn’t the only time I was at a loss for words as to why certain things were worded the way they were.
This was one of many occasions where Islamic practices were twisted and used to make a point rather than actually show what they are. I was pretty angry by the end of the book.
I am also tired of seeing “religious” characters shown as judgemental and just boring one dimensional characters. Danyal’s friend did nothing but haram police the other characters and was shown as judgemental towards his friends choices and that he was the only one that needed to “change” I just wish we could get more complex characters when it comes to someone practicing their faith instead of leaning into stereotypes. In fact basically all side characters were one dimensional stereotypes and I was rolling my eyes constantly.
There was also a scene where Danyal and Bisma kiss on stage in front of family friends and teachers and then Danyal’s mum throws her shoe at him and proceeds to hit him with said shoe. It was written in a light hearted joking way and then later his mum says sorry that she had to do that and it was to keep up appearances. I just could not believe that something that is actual ABUSE and an issue that many children deal with was used as a joke like this. It’s completely unacceptable.
There a couple things I did like seeing in the book. How the legacy of Churchill was discussed in the book and how he may not have been the amazing hero that everyone believes him to be. We get to see that there is more to history than what is written or learnt about. It just depends where you are in the world and what books you read.
There was also some relatable parts of the story, how Danyal was seen as a failure because he wasn’t a studious student and excelled in a parent approved field. The double stands in society that Bisma has to deal with too was so heartbreaking yet so realistic. Girls are always held to a much higher standard in Asian society than boys and girls are always blamed when they are less than perfect. So I really felt for Bisma especially how her dad treated her.
However the small positives were not enough for me to overlook the glaring issues in the book. From the awful stereotypical Muslim rep to the one dimensional characters and a story where trying to show that Danyal is “not like other Muslims” meaning he is “progressive” made me incredibly angry.
I was so disappointed with the Muslim rep in this book especially as it’s ownvoices. I did like some aspects of the story but I just wished the characters had been more complex and had actual nuanced rep rather than stereotypes.