Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
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.
I will willingly admit that the main reason I put this book on my to-read shelf was because it had a lesbian protagonist. I need more diversity in my books, so that was a good enough reason to check out this book. By the time I picked it up, I was a little worried since my reasoning wasn’t the strongest, but luckily I ended up quite enjoying this book, lesbian protagonist or not.
The beginning was certainly the slowest for me, though, the part when I was still worried and just not quite that hooked. I wasn’t sure if the book would be for me or if I should set it aside and move onto books I had stronger feelings for. I had to push myself through the beginning a bit, especially when it came to my feelings about the protagonist, Leila, but I’m glad I did.
This story is mainly about Leila’s sexuality journey. She starts off the story with absolutely no one knowing that she’s gay (well, that might be stretching it – she hasn’t told anyone that she’s gay, but some highly observant people already suspect). There’s plenty of things going on, like Leila’s new experiences in the theater as a behind-the-scenes-but-quite-important-player as well as navigating many different relationships, but they all can be related back to her sexuality, so if you’re looking for a LGBTQ book that involves different storylines relating back to those elements, this is probably the book for you.
The characters were a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were some characters I loved, some that were just so-so, and some that might have ranked higher on my list if they had a bigger presence. No offense to Leila, but I think my favorite character was Lisa, her former best friend who has a very intriguing storyline that is definitely a large part of Leila’s own story. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were times that I kind of wished the book had been about Lisa instead – but, at the same time, I was so thankful that Leila was the protagonist because it brought so much more diversity to the story. Leila is Persian, and her family’s heritage definitely plays a big role in her coming out story, and we wouldn’t have gotten that same aspect with Lisa, who is white and comes from a less close-knit family.
As I’ve already mentioned, this book gets so many points for being LGBTQ and having a non-white protagonist. Take away one aspect and you still have the other, but instead we got these two things twined together into a great and diverse read.
The Adult Situation
Since Leila’s family is an important part of her identity, her parents definitely have a big presence. They may not always be around to stop her from making bad decisions, but they’re a huge part of her sexual identity struggle and her journey to accepting herself. Her relationships with her parents, pre- and post-coming out, seemed so realistic – which is to say that her parents didn’t immediately accept her, but also didn’t immediately disown her or throw her out. They struggled with it as much as Leila was, which is a sad reality for many LGBTQ teenagers and their parents.
For a book about someone’s sexuality, the romance didn’t seem like a huge part for me. I mean, there was definitely a lot of romantic drama going on, but I guess I didn’t care about the romance as much as the fallout and the relationships themselves. There are many different relationships in this book, from the hot-and-cold romance with Saskia mentioned in the summary to a one-sided crush from a friend who doesn’t realize that Leila just isn’t going to fall for him no matter how much she likes him (as a friend, obviously), but my favorite relationship is the one at the end that I don’t want to say more for fear of spoilers.
The end was definitely my favorite part because I was really into the book and the characters and the story at that point. There was the interesting relationship, as I already mentioned, some realistic and interesting family drama and changing relationships, and most of the characters I had grown to like had gotten the chance to properly grow at that point. So, I was definitely sold on the book by the time I got to the end.
This book wasn’t perfect, especially at the beginning when I had trouble really connecting with it, but I quite enjoyed it nonetheless and will be interested in seeing what Sara Farizan writes in the future. Yay for diversity – I need more of it in 2015!