“Look at how pretty you are!” Mum exclaims. “You should straighten your hair all the time!”
Well, I guess that’s one thing I can straighten about myself. (p. 63)
Leila Azadi has always managed to avoid crushing on any of her classmates. No one knows she likes girls, not her loving and traditional Iranian parents, not her elementary school partner in crime, Lisa, and not even her best friends, Tess and Greg. And then Saskia arrives.
“Do people always has you where you’re from?” Saskia asks me. I know exactly what she means.
“Because I’m ethnically ambiguous? Absolutely,” I say, and she giggles. “Mostly, people think I’m Latina and speak to me in Spanish. When I tell them I don’t understand, they think I’m denying my heritage or something.” This gets her to laugh tremendously. I want to continue to hear it. “Then I say, ‘No, Middle Eastern,’ and the response is always ‘Lo siento‘, like I’ve got it really bad.”
[…] It’s nice to be able to talk to someone about this stuff. Tess and Greg don’t get it, because people see basic white or black when they look at them. Ir’s the ambiguity that throws people; they want to know which box to put you in. (p. 41)
Okay, just give up on this review already and go read the book. Still here and need convincing?
- Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel will make you laugh out loud. Leila is honest, sharp, sometimes amazingly oblivious, and has just the right way of putting things.
- Girls crushing on girls! No spoilers, but Leila and her girlfriend are super sweet together. Wait, that was a spoiler, wasn’t it.
- Tess doesn’t waver in her loyalty to her best friends, even when neither Leila nor Greg is at their best. (Actually, that’s being kind; sometimes, Tess’s best friends are downright foolish. Tess never stops being their friend.) Also, she doesn’t die. Which, okay, this isn’t fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopia, but I’ve read plenty of modern/alternative universe high school stories where horrible things happen to the best friend. Be reassured: Tess is well and happy at the story’s end.
- Greg is kind of an idiot at times. Onnnn the other hand, hormones will do that to you. And he also comes around. He’s doing his best, even if what he wants and what Leila wants – and what Saskia wants – don’t always coincide.
- Lisa Katz: popular, Jewish, and unhappy. Lisa and Leila were best friends in elementary school but drifted apart after. Lisa is still mourning for her brother, who died a year before the story starts. Her grief is treated with respect and empathy, and her choices, even choices that Leila doesn’t understand (like, why did Lisa ditch me to join the popular crowd?) have solid reasons.
- Sister-sister relationship! Leila’s perfect older sister, Nahal, is not just “the perfect older sister” that Leila can never live up to, but a sister. An ally. A person in her own right. Who may have a few minor secrets she’s keeping, too.
- Drama! Of the stage variety. Leila’s high school is putting on Twelfth Night, and the middle school puts on Cinderella. The theatre stuff is background but distinctly present; theatre geeks will enjoy the glimpses of backstage production. Not a love letter to mounting productions, but a note slipped between classes, maybe, a Miss you, hon! See you after school!
- And the backstage denizens: three girls who Leila is kind of afraid of, initially. Taryn, Simone, and Christina are fabulous.
- There are all kinds of prejudice and bigoted people in the story (um, not a spoiler). There are also people who learn better, people don’t share their parent’s prejudices, and people who never made a fuss over what colour anyone’s skin was or who they wanted to kiss in the first place.
In short: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a sweet! funny! honest! story of how one girl comes out to her family and friends, and manages to land the perfect girlfriend. Yeah. High school happily ever after.
“I’m not a phase,” I whisper, and [my girlfriend] nods.
“If you need me to be gushy, I can be. It’s just not what I’m used to. But if you need me to reassure you that you’re my love nugget, or whatever the hell it is people say these days, I can try.” (p. 271)