Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: June 11, 2019
Sana Khan is a cheerleader and a straight A student. She’s the classic (somewhat obnoxious) overachiever determined to win.
Rachel Recht is a wannabe director who’s obsesssed with movies and ready to make her own masterpiece. As she’s casting her senior film project, she knows she’s found the perfect lead – Sana.
There’s only one problem. Rachel hates Sana. Rachel was the first girl Sana ever asked out, but Rachel thought it was a cruel prank and has detested Sana ever since.
Told in alternative viewpoints and inspired by classic romantic comedies, this engaging and edgy YA novel follows two strongwilled young women falling for each other despite themselves.
SEXUALITY: (presumed) lesbian
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: (presumed) homoromantic
TROPES: enemies-to-lovers, secret pining
TAGS: YA, romance, contemporary, Jewish Mexican-American MC, Muslim queer MC
WARNINGS: mentions of alcohol abuse, sexist and cissexist microaggressions, misogyny
I have so many feelings about this book and I’m not sure how to put them right without getting rotten eggs thrown at me. I really wanted to love this book because the cover was everything to me and I pre-ordered right after reading the blurb.
If there’s one thing I really loved about it then it was Sana’s journey and personal growth. I felt like the more she got involved in Rachel’s movie project and the more she tried to juggle all of her obligations and wishes while not being able to use physical exercises as an outlet, the more she really confronted what made her miserable and it ended up giving her so much more room to grow into herself. And to find a way to reconcile what her family wanted her to be, what she wanted for herself and the struggle that resulted from that clashing with her love for them. It was a wonderful thing to watch.
I also really loved the relationship Rachel had with her father. He is this supportive, single dad who always got his daughter’s back now. They got through a lot of struggles to arrive at this place where Rachel could lean on her father when things really go haywire.
Unfortunately… This is where the list of things I loved end. I’m not sure if it was helpful that I watched Gilmore Girls when I was younger, or if it was a bad thing, because while it was recommended to me as “If Rory had ended up with Paris” kind of book, what I didn’t expect was how close to the truth that felt. Dana’s family dynamics reminded me of that TV show so much, I literally heard the dialogue in the actors’ voices sometimes and it was jarring.
Mostly because it felt like the show provided some background to the story even though they were not related at all, and at some point I wasn’t sure if I actually read that or if it was a snippet of my brain providing additional info. Inspiration is great, but somehow… The closeness really messed with my enjoyment of the story.
The other part was Rachel and how awful she was to Sana. The constant shaming of Sana’s beauty grated on me a lot, as well as the villainizing of girls who care about their appearance, looks, and do sports like cheerleading. Let people *be* without judging on a whim. And Rachel’s insistence to compare Sana to beautiful white women made me super uncomfortable and confused. I know we often set the standards of beauty as being white and thin, but the way it was handled here wasn’t a way that felt as critical of it as I wanted it to be. That standard is awful and just wrong, and it got barely addressed or changed, even after Sana took matters into her own hands and tried to educate Rachel.
In addition to that, what made me sad is that the descriptions of the cover I’ve seen floating around actually used more words for the girls’ sexuality than the book did. Not that every book is required to provide an abundance of identities and labels, especially when the book isn’t about coming out or the characters struggling with their sexuality. But there were situations in which the girls directly discussed their sexuality and not once did they use the words lesbian or bi or pan, or wlw or sapphic or queer. Anything. Not once. It didn’t sit right with me. At one point you do cross the line from “labels don’t matter to me” (which would have been fine to say too, y’know) into active avoidance territory, and once it feels that way to me as a reader? I have a hard time coming back from it.
Add in that for me the story really fizzled out in the last quarter, the bits and pieces leading to the solution leaving me unsatisfied and barely invested emotionally, and it was over. I just didn’t feel or believe the conflict, the struggles both girls went through didn’t click with me on an emotional level, the solutions and moments of enlightenment they went through felt rushed and unbelievable to me. It might have been due to the writing, too. It felt very simple and disjointed in some parts, especially in the last quarter. To the point where I couldn’t *feel* the narrative at all.
I just didn’t enjoy it. The writing didn’t save it, the characters didn’t save it, my own brain didn’t save it, and in the end, the parts I loved didn’t make up for all the parts I didn’t enjoy. I am disappointed because I wanted to love it, but I really couldn’t.
2.5 stars rounded down to 2
Aminah Mae Safi is a writer who explores art, fiction, feminism, and film. She loves Sofia Coppola movies, Bollywood endings, and has seen all of the Fast and Furious franchise. She lives in Los Angeles, CA with her partner and a cat bent on world domination (and another cat that is just here for the snacks). Her 2016 We Need Diverse Books winning story will appear in their forthcoming anthology FRESH INK (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018). Find her on Instagram @aminahmae and her website. Not the Girls You’re Looking for is her first novel.