By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian
A few years ago, I read a haunting debut novel called If You Could Be Mine, and was thrilled to hear that the author had a new book coming out. Somehow though, I never got around to her second offering until this summer, and boy am I glad I did.
What I Just Read: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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.
Do I Like It: Yes, and I can’t believe I waited so long to read this!
Thoughts: If I had to really distill Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel down to one word, I think I would choose “realistic.” Not just because it’s part of the genre of realistic fiction, but because every detail of the book rang so true to me, from things that were painfully familiar to experiences totally outside of my own. Leila was an amazing main character in part because she is simultaneously average and extraordinary – just like most people are. She’s a middling student, hates running in gym class, both loves and resents her family, and falls hard for someone who might not be the best choice for her. In short, she felt like someone I knew – or someone I once was.
Not surprisingly for a book I loved, this book centers almost entirely around Leila’s relationships with others. Sure, there’s a play, and some parties, but most of the tension, drama, and wonderful scenes are focused on Leila re-negotiating her relationships with those around her after Saskia enters the picture. From Leila’s “perfect” older sister to her wallflower best friend, from the new people in her life like Saskia and Tomas to the old friends like Lisa, Leila is forced to realize time and time again that she may have been wrong about even the people closest to her, or that even if she wasn’t, her relationships to them could change when she forces them to realize they may have been wrong about her. It’s a fascinating interplay between Leila being forced to question herself and her judgments while at the same time her confidence in herself grows.
And then, of course, there’s Saskia. Even in audiobook format, which in this case I thought detracted from my appreciation for her as a character, she shone. She was compelling, entrancing, and engaging, but also remote. Just like Leila, it’s hard for readers to really wrap their mind around her, especially as she sends inconsistent signals. She’s at the center of the story, but somehow, absent from the page – like Leila, we have a hard time seeing what, if anything, is below the surface, which makes her all the more fascinating but also inconsequential. If all these descriptions sound like contradictions, that’s because Saskia if full of them. Ultimately though, she is really only a catalyst – someone who comes in, changes everything, but remains unchanged herself. And that makes her both a really unique and interesting character, as well as one of the least important and relatable characters in the book. Love her or hate her, Saskia is worth the price of admission – but the changes she brings about in Leila’s life are worth so much more.