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.
Another romantic comedy! What is happening to me? (I say, pretending my being a hopeless romantic where fictional characters are concerned is a new development.)
Anyway. I read this book in one sitting. It’s short, the pages are tiny, and it’s a mix of humor and heartfelt that’s very easy to slip into. Maybe because I read it so soon after, it reminded me a little of One Man Guy–both books focus on a gay protagonist whose culture is a big part of their identity, and both are funny and adorable and made me really hungry. Despite some similar elements, the characters and struggles were unique. Leila’s voice made me laugh out loud multiple times; I loved how certain of herself she was in some areas and how unsure in others.
I also enjoyed the secondary characters; Leila’s classmates and family members all bring something to the story and all have their moment to shine. In particular, I’m a fan of Tomas, the hilarious and bluntly honest co-stage-manager who works with Leila on the school play (speaking of which, there’s a play in the book! Always fun for me as a theater person!) and Lisa, a former friend of Leila’s with whom Leila reconnects throughout the book, and who is responsible for making me Feel a lot of things.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel deals with some heavier topics (dead family members, toxic romantic relationships) but for the most part, it maintains a lighter tone that I think works. There is a don’t-judge-people-by-first-impressions message, but it never feels heavy-handed or over-the-top. Mostly, it’s a fun, romantic, and genuine (and diverse!) book about a teenage girl managing her relationships with the people around her and gaining a better understanding of herself and her world.
Certain parts of the book felt somewhat cartoonish (eg, a teacher going off an a tangent that is obviously about her love life in the middle of class, a lot of the main antagonist’s dramatically terrible soap-opera villain behavior). That said, I gave this book a little leeway on that because I’ve come to expect this kind of thing from romantic comedies. I’ve also heard readers say they’ve known people like the main antagonist in their lives, so you can take my comments about her with a grain of salt. I also found the romantic resolution a little bit predictable, but again, this is to be expected and I didn’t really mind.
As I’ve mentioned before, I loved being in Leila’s head. She was so sarcastic and honest and playful that I laughed out loud on nearly every page. She’s one of those characters I just can’t help wanting to be friends with. (Also, she isn’ thin, and it’s just mentioned casually, and she seems to be mostly fine with how she looks, which is always good). The secondary characters (aside from Lisa) don’t necessarily feel real and complex the way Leila does, but they are fun and memorable, and I love that Leila’s initial impressions of them (eg, assuming the other girls on tech crew are lesbians because they fit the stereotypical image and that her older sister is completely perfect all the time) turn out to be incorrect. I know I’ve judged people based on outward appearances before, and I think we could all use a reminder that a first impression isn’t always a true one one.
“I’m not heterophobic or anything. I just wish I didn’t have to watch them express their lust for each other all the time.”–Leila
I liked that this book explored how Leila’s cultural identity, and how it influenced her relationship with her family and her thoughts about her sexuality. As a first generation American, Leila has to deal with her parents’ expectations of her. One of the reasons she is worried about coming out to her family is because they come from Iran, where homosexuality can be punishable by death. And [spoilers] I love how Leila’s family reacts when she does come out; they’re surprised, but do their best to support her.
I’ve described the book as a romantic comedy multiple times, but haven’t said too much about the romance. Rest assured, however, that it is wonderful and cute and not what I expected from the beginning. It develops slowly and has a good dose of friendship in it, as all the best romances do. I can’t say any more due to spoilers.
This is a fun, light book that wraps everything up with a nice happy ending, but still deals with some more serious issues and gives them the depth they deserve. I say pick up for sure.