THE LOVE MATCH

Candid, textured, and amusing: a novel readers will devour in one sitting.

Zahra Khan finds herself in a real-life Bengali natok, or drama, when two handsome boys enter her life.

All Zahra really wants is to be a writer, but she must first navigate adulthood, love, and the Bengali community of Paterson, New Jersey. She has to put off college to work at local Pakistani tea shop Chai Ho to help her mother support their family, which has struggled financially ever since her father died two years ago. While Zahra focuses on making ends meet, her mother tries desperately to set her up with gorgeous, well-mannered Harun Emon, who is from a wealthy family—precisely what Zahra’s mom is looking for. The two 18-year-olds are not interested in one another, but they pretend to date to keep their parents satisfied. Meanwhile, Zahra is falling for new Chai Ho hire Nayim Aktar, a poor orphan and recent arrival from Bangladesh. As the pressures start building, Zahra finds herself at a crossroads: choose obligation or choose herself. Taslim’s descriptions of the Bengali community and her articulation of diverse Muslim identities and practices are authentic and nuanced. Details like waking up for Fajr prayer, halal dating, and inner turmoil over wanting physical intimacy describe genuine experiences. Topics like double standards in the South Asian community, the intersection of queer and Muslim identities, and the reality of the inaccessibility of higher education add depth to the novel.

Candid, textured, and amusing: a novel readers will devour in one sitting. (Romance. 12-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-66590-110-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2022

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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