Featured Review: More Than Just a Pretty Face (Syed M. Masood)
About This Book:
For fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han, a sweetly funny YA rom-com debut about falling in love, familial expectations, and being a Renaissance Man.
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 Contributed By Olivia Farr Staff Reviewer*
MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE is a fantastic YA contemporary romance that follows Danyal during his senior year of high school. Danyal is 19 and not great at academics- he is barely making it to graduation, but he doesn't mind. Going to college is not his dream- he wants to be a chef. He loves to cook, and he's really good at it. He has an internship at a French restaurant, where he is learning all kinds of skills.
Although it is not what his parents dreamed for him, they are somewhat (mostly) supportive. However, as they go through the arranged marriage process, it seems like this can be a hard sell as his future income may not be so high. His handsome good looks can only get him so far. He dreams of marrying one of his best friend's sister, Kaval, who is really beautiful and does well in school.
When a new marriage prospect, Bisma, comes over, Danyal connects with her- but she seems too good to be true. When he takes her for coffee, she tells him why she's not such a hot commodity. He spends some time with her, and though it doesn't bother him, he still dreams of Kaval. However, he seems to get pulled in by Bisma's family a bit, much to her chagrin, but Danyal is willing to be her friend.
Then, Danyal gets picked to enter the prestigious Renaissance Man contest, which usually only has the top students as contestants. Kaval offers him a line that he can take by winning. However, his topic becomes more personal, and he enlists the help of Bisma. As they work on the project, Danyal learns more about history, the present, and all the things that are so great about Bisma.
What I loved: This was such an enthralling read, and it completely pulled me in from the start. Danyal is a sweet and funny character, who shows us that academics are not everything. It was easy to cheer for whatever he wants right from the start. The brunt of the story really tackles some important topics really poignantly. Danyal takes on Churchill as the history teacher's favorite; however, Churchill's legacy ignores the things he did to India. Danyal examines these critically with his parents and Bisma to consider how this reflects not only on Churchill but also on the way the present is shaped. The discussions around these topics are really thought-provoking and well-thought-out. These aspects and the anti-racist ideas are quite powerful and elevate this book to another level.
I also really appreciated the insight into Islam that we get, not only from Danyal and his parents, but his friends, one of whom does not really follow the tenants and another who is the opposite and much more strict in following them. These insights are really important and add a lot of value to this #ownvoices story.
Final verdict: Highly compelling and powerful, MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE is a YA contemporary romance that delivers not only a great romance but also thought-provoking conversation about history and the racism that is still pervasive today.
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