Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: 10/7/2014
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Target audience: YA
Keywords: LGBT, theatre, culture, identity, friendship, family
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.
Summary: New friends, old friends, secret feelings, sister “rivalry” and fitting in are all on the mind of high school junior Leila.
Sara Farizan’s latest is just another reminder of all the books I say I want to read, and never get to because after all this time, I still have not read her debut. (Don’t worry; I have it out from the library right now.) So Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel was my first taste of her work and I totally get what all the fuss is about.
Main character Leila is a junior at her high school, a girl with a Persian heritage who is constantly labeled as a Latina. Already feeling on the outskirts of her peers, Leila can’t imagine coming out too. Not at her school and most definitely, not at home. She fears her parents and her perfect older sister will abandon her just like a family in their social circle did to their gay son. Will she ever be able to be her true self?
This is the thing. All of this weighs so much on how Leila sees herself, and how she presents herself to the world, making it pretty massive life changing stuff. But there is such humor in her character; I loved hearing her thoughts, how she wasn’t exactly a fashion plate, and how she struggled with being a good student and wanted to make her parents proud of her nonetheless. There were no airs about her; as readers we were granted the opportunity to know the real Leila and watch as she wiggled through these challenges.
Enter Saskia — the exotic new girl who flirts with anyone who has a pulse, including Leila. Unlike the rest of her school, Saskia doesn’t assume anything about Leila and really appreciates her culture. Their chemistry is apparent in the beginning but it was also a little worrisome. Did you ever meet someone and just fall for them completely, friendship or relationship? It was like a Saskia disease that Leila could not fight, paralleled with the return of an old childhood friend, Lisa, who is going through her own periods of grief and emerging as a brand new person from who Leila used to know. I was so thrilled to see Lisa and Leila rekindle their friendship because they didn’t try to put pressure on each other when it came to anything. Instead they supported each other in this quiet, lovely way.
Farizan skillfully balances the distance Leila is feeling from her family as her secret becomes harder and harder to conceal with the changes happening in her social life. She also injects some great moments from the school theatre program (which Leila reluctantly joins) and a teacher who confides in Leila more than she should. Most importantly, I really liked how Leila, who was so aware of people and their beliefs in certain stereotypes, was something she adopted without even noticing it. To me, this drove home the point that we are always works in progress, and are going to be encountering people all the time with no way to know their real story. It’s so important to listen, and to remain open-minded and compassionate.
Tell Me How a Crush Should Feel is a refreshingly authentic story of friendship, heartbreak, family, and acceptance — of yourself and others. If I haven’t sold you yet, there’s a Muppet reference. You are welcome. (Psst. Thanks, Sara.)