Khayyam Maquet, a 17-year-old rising high school senior, wallows in self-pity during her family’s annual summer trip to Paris.
Her failed essay contest entry chasing a theory about a lost Delacroix painting gifted to Alexandre Dumas dashed her hopes of impressing her dream art school. When Khayyam perhaps too coincidentally meets the sixth-great-grandson of Dumas himself, also called Alexandre Dumas, they embark on a quest to find the lost painting of a mysterious raven-haired woman. The narration alternates between Khayyam, a conflicted teen who falls for present-day Alexandre while she is still hung up on her noncommittal boyfriend back home in Chicago, and Leila, the beautiful, mystical Muslim subject of the painting who lived during the 19th century as a concubine to an Ottoman pasha and yearned for freedom and to be with her true love. Ahmed (Internment, 2019, etc.) explores weighty themes including Orientalism, women silenced by history, and the responsibility of sharing their unheard voices as Khayyam grapples with who has the right to tell someone’s story. Familiar teen romance and angst, including flip-flopping on feelings and motivations, mix with academic discoveries and intrigue in this fast-paced, if at times dense, mystery. Khayyam is an American Muslim teen with French and Indian parents; the novel explores her biracial and bicultural identities.
An entertaining tale that will appeal most to fans of art history and literature. (Fiction. 14-adult)