Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel (2014)
Author: Sara Farizan
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Extent: 304 pages
Release Date: October 7, 2014
High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard.
But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful.
Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.
I’ve read Sara Farizan’s other book, If You Could Be Mine, before and while I didn’t love it, I appreciated the thought that went into it and its exploration of what being gay in Iran is like. Unlike that book, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel takes place in America and follows Leila, a Persian teenager who recently realised she is gay. Sounds like a good premise? I thought so, but I didn’t really enjoy this book.
My main problem with this story is mainly how simple it is. The characters all feel very one-dimensional, the plot shallow and also very single-lined. It feels like characters only grow when on a scene, and out of the story, they’re forgotten completely. Even Leila, the protagonist, doesn’t have much of a personality: she comes across as a blank slate to me and just wasn’t that interesting.
“How do people do this? How do people work up the courage to be themselves even if it means facing rejection from people who love them? Why don’t people get medals for this?”
Technically, Leila struggles with quite a bit in this book: her feelings for confusing new girl Saskia, coming out to her friends, coming out to her family — issues that, when given enough depth, have the potential to be eye-opening and touching. Yet none of these things actually have any sort of impact on me. I read on because I’m really bad at fighting sunk-cost fallacy, but I didn’t feel engaged.
One thing I do have to commend, though, is how Farizan manages to include elements of Persian culture in this book. It was very enjoyable and interesting to see Leila interact with her culture, whether it be thinking about it or talking to others from her family and family friends. The characters in this book are also diverse — we’ve got a mix of characters with different races, ethnicities, sexualities, identities, etc.
“I want to stop living in fear. I want to stop coming up with excuses about why I’m not interested in dating. I want my family to know me. I want to get to learn more about Lisa. I want to stop feeling like everything I am is inadequate or makes me unworthy of love because of something I can’t help.”
Overall, though, I can’t say that I enjoyed reading Tell Me Again. The themes it explores might be important, but the storytelling isn’t polished enough for me to really recommend the book. Sara Farizan’s other work, If You Could Be Mine, is a lot more interesting and enjoyable.