Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Published: August 4, 2020 by: Little, Brown Books
Rating: 4/5 stars
CW: discussion of genocide against South-East Asian people, cyber-bulling/revenge porn
Danyal Jilani is a charismatic Pakistani-American teen from a traditional Muslim family. He dreams of becoming a chef, though his father wishes something more stable for him, and his crush Kaval's family does not see Danyal as a good fit for their daughter. When Danyal is entered into a contest to write a speech, he seeks the opportunity to show the world how capable he is, and he enlists the help of studious and shy Bisma along the way. However, the more Danyal researches the subject of his speech, the more he finds himself conflicted with doing what is expected from him, and doing what is right.
I received this book from the lovely Tess @ Book Rapt. I was excited to read a cute, Pakistani rom-com and I was hoping for something similar to the vibes that Sandhya Menon's books have. This book did not disappoint on witty banter and some great character development, however there are some issues to address.
First off, I was really happy to read a YA Pakistani rom-com from a boy's perspective. Most of the YA contemporaries I read come from a girl's POV, and I really wanted to change up how I read. I loved reading from Danyal's point of view because I could definitely see how he is in conflict with the traditions his father wants for him, and his actual aspirations. I think choosing to portray Danyal as an aspiring chef was a great move on the author's part, because we got some great food descriptions and I loved seeing how passionate Danyal was about food.
One of the book's major topics is a discussion on Winston Churchill. Churchill is the subject of Danyal's speech, and the more Danyal researches about him, the more he finds out about the atrocities that Churchill put onto South-East Asians during English colonialism. Danyal is expected to write a speech that praises Churchill, but he begins to question if this is the right move. Danyal starts off as a character that everyone underestimates, however he really takes up an interest in this subject and I loved how he developed to become more active in the issues that his community faces.
I also thought Bisma was a great backing character. She was super smart and strong, and her commitment to helping Danyal succeed despite her initial distaste towards him was really great to see. Bisma also has to deal with issues such as revenge porn and misogyny in the novel, and I liked how the author handled these issues.
The issues I have about this book are ones that I'm not necessarily equipped to handle. I'm Pakistani but not Muslim, and I know some Muslim reviewers have had issues with how relationships were portrayed in the novel. Some stated that rules were not followed through, and I did think myself that I wasn't sure if the Muslim representation was all that great. The author is Muslim, and it's important to see all sides of the argument, however I do think these reviews need to be taken into account. Here's a link to the Goodreads page for the book to see some own voices reviews.
I guess another thing that just kind of irks me a bit about books featuring South-East Asian characters is that most of the time, the families are super strict, mean, and sometimes just downright misogynistic. Now while it's true that a lot of brown families are very traditional, I think sometimes books tend to mistake traditional for being a negative home environment, and I just want to say that not all brown families are traditional in the first place. Yes, many Indian/Pakistani families have high standards for their kids, but this doesn't mean that respect isn't in place. Overall, I think I would like to read some more books with brown families that are just fully supportive of their children. I think we need more of that family dynamic in South-East Asian YA lit.
That's it for my review. Overall, More Than Just A Pretty Face was a fun novel to add to my Pakistani YA lit collection. However, I do think us Pakistanis could improve in our writings to encompass a greater scope of families and characters.
Have you read More Than Just A Pretty Face? What did you think?
Emily @ Paperback Princess