More Than Just a Pretty Face

Little, Brown. Aug. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316492355.
Gr 9 Up–Danyal Jilani gets by in high school by putting in as little effort as possible, and he dreams of a future where he can pursue his true passions. In his case, this means culinary arts and wooing the most beautiful (and unattainable) girl in school. His carefree world comes to an abrupt halt when Danyal is forced to participate in an exclusive school-wide academic competition. Concurrently, he is also introduced to Bisma, an intriguing bridal candidate with a deeply painful past. Although there are some clunky moments of dialogue in this debut novel, Masood finds his groove in this high-stakes coming-of-age story. He places Danyal at an intersection between South Asia and America, and it is a pleasure to watch Danyal’s growth and development as he grapples with both historical prejudices against India and contemporary prejudices within his own community. This is also one of the first YA novels that prominently features the atrocities of the 1943 Bengal Famine. It is refreshing to read an #OwnVoices novel that portrays Islam as it is for many Muslim American teenagers: a belief and culture that can be beautiful, complex, occasionally long-winded, and often sagacious.
VERDICT This delightful debut will make a fine addition to any YA collection, and includes a much-needed historical and contemporary perspective of Western culture through a South Asian lens.

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