Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up. The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death. Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?


Review: I absolutely adore Sandhya Menon's debut novel, When Dimple Met Rishi, but I have been curious to see what the author did which Rishi's brother, Ashish's story. I am happy to report that I love his story even more. There's Something About Sweetie is a contemporary romance that is full of heart while also tackling fat shaming, identity, privilege, and self confidence.
  Ashish Patel is the rich and handsome basketball star of Richmond Academy. Bummed after being dumped by his college girlfriend and his self confidence taken a big beating, he challenges his parents out of a moment of weakness to make good on their constant threat to find him a suitable Indian American girl to date. Their choice is Sweetie Nair, Piedmont High’s track star. When Ashish’s mother proposes the match, Sweetie’s mother adamantly insists that their children are not compatible. The Patels are extremely affluent, but the main reason Mrs. Nair refuses is because Sweetie is fat and is trying to protect her daughter from social humiliation.
  Sweetie embraces her body and does not feel ashamed about it. Her weight is always the focus of her mother's concerns whether it is Sweetie's diet or her lack of drive just to "lose some weight". Overhearing her mother's refusal to Mrs. Patel hurts Sweetie deeply and sparks her to start the "Sassy Sweetie Project" in which she will overturn all her insecurities into strengths. The Sassy Sweetie Project is my favorite part of this story. It upends the makeover trope which often seen in teen movies of the geeky girl being hot under her frumpy clothes. This project is personal for Sweetie and it shapes her character arc really well and strongly. She becomes assertive and takes matters into her own hands to live her best life even if it means agreeing to the Patels’ four-date contract without telling her parents.
 Ashish and Sweetie accept the arrangement, each feeling they have something to prove to themselves. For Ashish the relationship is his way to bounce back to the person he use to be and for Sweetie is an empowering move to prove to herself that she is desirable and deserves love. Both characters have vulnerabilities and wonder if this arranged match will work, and not knowing what will happen when Sweetie’s parents find out. Ashish and Sweetie share narrative duties, and both are flanked by supportive friends and caring parents—even if their approaches to love is flawed and can be painful at times. It is a pleasure to watch Ashish and Sweetie fall for each other in the quiet moments and allowing them the space and pace to make decisions, succeed or fail, learn, and blossom. I know some reviewers have see Sweetie as someone who is magically perfect, but I disagree. She waivers in her self confidence which felt real and her perseverance to fight is really admirable. Kudos to the author on creating a fat character who is not ashamed of her body nor focused on physical descriptions.


Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, mostly in the form of texting, and some crude humor. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

Review: Ayesha at Last has been pitched as a Muslim Pride and Prejudice retelling, but I would describe it as an homage to the Jane Austen classic featuring Muslim characters set in Toronto, Canada. Smart, witty, and aspiring poet Ayesha Shamsi juggles her dreams and the stifling expectations of her tight-knit Toronto's Indian-Muslim community. Instead of pursing her artistic passion, she picks a practical career as a high school teacher in order to pay back her financial loans to her uncle and watches as her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, collects marriage proposals like trading cards. Ayesha is the non-desirable type as she is an outspoken feminist, and ancient according to the desi marriage clock.
  After a misunderstanding, Ayesha pretends to be Hafsa while planning a youth conference, where she is required to collaborate with conservative Khalid, a newcomer to the area. Ayesha pegs Khalid as rigid and judgmental on their first meeting because of his white robes, long beard, and ultra-conservative behavior. She doesn't object to arranged marriages, but believes compatibility is important, and she scorns Khalid's complacency with accepting his mother's choice of bride. Khalid pegs Ayesha as those types of Muslims who appear devout but goes to bars and interacts with men. The clash of these two opposing viewpoints on how to practice their religion is a constant tension between Khalid and Ayesha. As Ayesha and Khalid work on the conference together, Khalid learns to accommodate different viewpoints. 
  Family loyalty and reputation are a recurring theme throughout the novel. Khalid is overly reliant on his mother and completely passive about his future so long as it appeases his mother as his family's reputation was rocked by his rebellious sister Zareena. Ayesha is trapped between being loyal to uncle and aunt while being a pushover to her spoiled and immature cousin. I loved this book for its candid yet critical view of the social pressures facing young Muslims as well as the universal question of "What makes a good and bad Muslim?" which all Muslims ask themselves. I appreciated the author's inclusion of Muslims of a wide faith range from the devout to the secular as they are without figure pointing of what they should be. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, mostly at the cost of Khalid's comment in not getting with the 21st century and abundant cultural references, which elevates Ayesha at Last beyond just another Austen adaptation/retelling. Along with witty social critique there are other serious issues that the author does not shy away from such as workplace discrimination, alcoholism, and abortion. I did, however, think the ending was a bit rushed and I selfishly wanted an epilogue, but this is one of my favorite books that I have read this summer and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: A pornography website featuring younger age girls is mentioned in the book along with crude humor, mentions of drugs and alcohol, and language. Recommended for Grades 10 and up.

If you like this book try: Pride, prejudice, and other flavors by Sonali Dev
Rummanah Aasi

Description: There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant--even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
 
What's not so regular is that this time they all don't have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It's not that Genesis doesn't like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight--Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she'd married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren't all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she's made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won't the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they're supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Review: Genesis Begins Again is a heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting look at internalized racism and colorism. Genesis Anderson is a black tween who has a very hard life. She’s had to move several times because her family keeps getting evicted thanks to her alcoholic, gambling father, who inappropriately uses the rent money. Genesis hates her circumstances and adds the things that she hates to herself to her ever growing list including her dark skin. Genesis is routinely verbally abused by her mean drunk father who is also also dark skinned and takes no pride in their resemblance. Compounded by the fact that her Grandmother also spouts racist thoughts of those who have dark skinned believing they are lazy, backward, and will never measure up to anything in life. Genesis wants nothing more than to look like her light-skinned mother. With kids bullying her and calling her names like Charcoal, Eggplant, Blackie, it is not surprising to witness Genesis desperately wanting to be accepted, even causing herself physical pain to bleaching her skin and changing her hair in order to attain it.
   Her fragile self confidence slowly starts to build as her talent to sing demands that she stand out. She develops friendships with those who also feel like outsiders either due to mental issues or not feeling like fit in a neat tidy box. With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries as well as face her own personal prejudices. Genesis' road to self confidence is emotional, painful, yet a still hopeful adolescent journey. I have never read a book that tackles colorism so head on and in a candid way. I also enjoyed the references to notable black activists, athletes, artists, and, notably, musicians such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James. These inclusions added to the story in particular with the musicians that Genesis used as a mirror. This is a powerful debut novel that should not be missed.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There are references to Genesis' father appearing drunk and racist comments made by her grandmother. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up. 

If you like this book try: The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, The Fold by An Na
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and home schooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.
    In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel. To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

Review: After loving Alex, Approximately and Starry Night by Jenn Bennett, I have been really looking forward to another great contemporary romance. Unfortunately her latest novel, Serious Moonlight, which features a mystery and a romance fell completely flat for me.
  The book is set in Seattle, Washington where Birdie Lindberg is a home schooled and extremely sheltered teen with narcolepsy. After the death of her single mother, Birdie was raised by her grandparents and her wild, eccentric-artist "Aunt" Mona. Birdie is great at solving mysteries and lives vicariously through her novels, but she can  not find her footing in real life. On the surface Birdie is a character that I would have loved as I too was a mystery loving teen, but she read far too young for an eighteen year old. I understood her awkwardness but I never felt connected to her. When the book opens we find out that Birdie had very first sexual encounter with a boy she just met and ghosted him, which kick starts this novel. I had a very hard time believing that a teen so sheltered would do this when all of her personality descriptions suggest otherwise. 
  We met Birdie's mysterious boy, Daniel Aoki, when Birdie begins working the graveyard shift at the historic Cascadia Hotel, where Daniel drives the hotel van. He wants to understand what happened between them, but Birdie just wants to forget. Still, she can't resist his invitation to help solve an intriguing puzzle about a local author who takes great pains to hide his identity in weekly visits to the hotel, and their sleuthing takes them all over the city.
  I thought Daniel was adorable, but he was not fleshed out as I had hoped. Bennett attempts to balance a happy, breezy love interest and one who is battling depression. I had hoped the mental health aspect would be further explored but it is not. I appreciated once again the inclusion of diversity of Daniel being half Japanese and half white with a hearing difficulty. Overall I felt pretty underwhelmed with this book and I did not feel surprised with the final reveal of the mystery either.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, sex is referenced and implied, and weed candy is consumed. Recommended for Grades

If you like this book try: Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson
Rummanah Aasi

Description: More than three thousand years ago, two armies faced each other in an epic battle that rewrote history and came to be known as the Trojan War. The Iliad, Homer's legendary account of this nine-year ordeal, is considered the greatest war story of all time and one of the most important works of Western literature. In this stunning graphic novel adaptation -- a thoroughly researched and artfully rendered masterwork -- renowned illustrator Gareth Hinds captures all the grim glory of Homer's epic. Dynamic illustrations take readers directly to the plains of Troy, into the battle itself, and lay bare the complex emotions of the men, women, and gods whose struggles fueled the war and determined its outcome.

Review: Hinds' latest graphic novel is an ambitious and compelling adaptation of Homer's The Illiad, an epic poem that covers the tenth year of the Trojan War. Though the story of the whole Trojan War is complex and long, Hinds reminds faithful to the large plot points of the war in particular the internal conflict between two Greek leaders (Achilles and King Agamemnon) as they seek to conquer the city of Troy, the rage of Achilles, and the death of Trojan prince Hector. There is a lot to cover in this graphic novel adaptation, but Hinds does a great job in highlighting the main events without dragging down the pace of the graphic novel. I also really liked how he included the Zeus and the other gods and goddesses's involvement as fickle and meddlesome war agents, regularly resorting to acts of trickery, mischief, and deadly interference as they played with mortal lives.
  Of course the book is mainly focused on the battle scenes since it's covering a war, but it surprisingly does not rely on gore for their dramatic effect even though there is plenty of blood and violence. Instead, the artwork consisted of pencil, watercolor, and digital illustrations propel readers from scene to scene, shifting from neatly organized panels during moments of peace to angular layouts during times of physical and emotional strife.
  The graphic novel does capture the story's "war is glory" attitude and hypermasculinity but it also shows the emotions involved in the war. The themes of glory, pride, hubris, as well as the harrowing sorrow and desolation of women and children of the conquered. Even Hinds' Helen is aware of the destruction brought by her arrival (though Hinds notes that the reasons for the Trojan War is possibly many). I appreciated the purposeful color palette assigns each god his or her own vivid, monochrome hue, while a subtle red and blue color scheme helps differentiate between the Greeks and Trojans. Due to the sheer size of characters it was a bit confusing at times to identity who is who. Some panels have large text panels, but the text was necessary to understand the plot. There is extensive back matter which includes an author’s note, a map, extensive notes, and a selected bibliography for further reading. Hinds has succeeded in creating an accessible adaptation of a great epic poem for those who are encountering Homer for the first time as well as those who are already familiar with the original work. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is strong violence in the graphic novel, but not gratuitously gory. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this book try: The Age of Bronze series by Eric Shanower, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (for a more personal insight to the character)
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