Rummanah Aasi
Danyal Jilani doesn't lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he's funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn't approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal's longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.
   When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man--a school-wide academic championship--it's the perfect opportunity to show everyone he's smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her...the more he learns from her...the more he cooks for her...the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

Review: Syed M. Masood's debut novel More than a Pretty Face is an ambitious romantic comedy, coming of age story that bites more than it can chew. Danyal Jilani relies too much on his good looks and charms to breeze through high school by putting in as little effort as possible. He dreams of a future where he is a chef and having the school's most beautiful girl, Kaval Sabsvari, as his wife. Life instead has other plans for Danyal. His confidence is shaken when Danyal is forced to participate in an exclusive, extremely competitive school-wide academic competition called the Renaissance Man competition in which the winner receives $5,000. With his grades suffering and Kaval's attention wavering, Danyal seizes this opportunity to become worthy of her. Since Danyal is 19 years old, marriage is starting to become a consideration, he is introduced to Bisma, an intriguing bridal candidate with a deeply painful past that involves an impulsive decision and a tainted reputation. Danyal and Bisma progress from acquaintances to friends to possibly something more. Along the way Danyal finds out what is important to him including a history lesson that involves the atrocities of the 1943 Bengal Famine and provides a critique of his own community. 
  I mostly enjoyed More than a Pretty Face, but there are blunders that felt clunky and under developed. Some of the jokes in the book verge on insulting such as asking Bisma if she is a porn star when she unveils her painful past. I also found Bisma's extreme, impulsive decision hard to believe though I can try to see how Masood was trying to address how important reputation is a cornerstone in the Pakistani culture along with the hypocrisy within the community though it isn't quite successfully fleshed out in the book. Though it was admirable to showcase a variety of Pakistani Muslim teens who practice their religion on a spectrum, his portrayal of Sohrab veers dangerously and uncomfortably towards the caricature of a budding extremist instead of a teen who is a proudly devout Muslim teen. Similarly, there is a subplot which involves Danyal and his father's tumultuous relationship. Danyal's father is another caricature who has a scowl fixated on his face and disapproves of his culinary pursuits because of its lack of financial security. This plot line is wrapped up too quickly and the moment when Danyal's father shows he is proud of his son does not land as it intends. Despite these setbacks, I did find Danyal endearing and I liked watching his relationship with Bisma blossom. I look forward to reading more from Masood in the future and seeing more books with Pakistani characters in YA.  

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, mentions of underage drinking, sex, and a sex tape. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Frankly in Love by David Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
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