Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel - Sara Farizan

Let me begin this post by saying how glad I am that more on bisexuality is finally showing up in YA literature (and literature and studies in general, for that matter) since it used to be so often pushed to the side, marginalized. Only a few short years ago any mention of bisexuality would lead to a comment such as, "bisexuality is just half way down the road to gay," or "bi people are just confused." But that's not the case. Well, in some cases people are confused, but that's usually more in early teen years when hormones are going crazy and sexual feelings are in their early stages, leading to arousal at, well, anything! But I digress...

The subject matter of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a dramatic departure from Sara Farizan's first novel, If You Could Be Mine, though the sensitivity, anxiety, and sexual frustration is still very much at the forefront of this new novel. Farizan is a fabulous contributor to the field of queer YA literature, and I hope she continues to publish for many, many years to come! But now, on to the review...
Ms. Taylor is eyeing the class like a hawk about to swoop down on some unsuspecting field mice. A really hot hawk with great hair and an appreciation for literature, I might add . . . which reminds me, I should stop crushing on her in class, especially since it's the beginning of the school year.
Leila is a young Persian girl going to school at an academy populated mostly by privileged children of affluent parents. Her father is a doctor, her sister is in college, working to become a doctor, and her mother holds high expectations for Leila once she graduates from high school. Things aren't terrible in Leila's world, but they're not great either. She's doing okay at school, and her parents are driving her totally insane . . . not yet, anyway. But things start to change when a new girl shows up at school and Leila has to start dealing with her "lady-loving inclinations."

Though the concept is not original in itself, the setting and cultural diversity within the story make the narrative unique and keep it from becoming formulaic. Her father's prejudice is obvious, but so is his love for his children. Leila comes face to face with this prejudice when she auditions for a play:
"Only drug addicts and gays are actors. You don't want to hang out with those people, do you?" the good doctor asks.
That knocks the wind out of me. I understand it's a cultural think, and my father is a traditional, conservative Iranian man, but I've never heard him explicitly say something like that . . . . Imagine if he knew I am one of those people.
When Saskia shows up and starts confusing Leila with mixed signals, everything starts to go off course. Even in the midst of her anxieties and confusion, Leila's narrative voice continues on full of authenticity and humor, filled with irrational thoughts and skipping to ridiculously improbable conclusions. One night while hanging out with Saskia, she has a few too many drinks, and the narration goes into a hilarious stream-of-consciousness style:
I am totally coherent. Hahaha. Yeah. Totally . . . coherent. Those drinks were delicious! Delicious is a funny word. It should be spelled with an I-S-H like wish or dish! I wish for a dish!
"You can lie on the bed if you want," Saskia says. Bed! That's where sexy times happen! I'm not ready for sexy times!
Leila's family is frustratingly conservative, but understandable and sympathetic. The secondary characters, including Tess and Lisa are fully fleshed out and are a huge part of Leila's world. Saskia is annoying, but a mirror of so many similar people in real life. The whole cast works together to create tension throughout the narrative arc. Sexuality and sexual confusion are subtly worked through with sensitivity and nuanced storytelling.

Farizan beautifully blends together humorous moments with tragedy, sadness and anxiety to give readers a wonderfully complex and ultimately fulfilling story.

Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advanced Reading Copy - Out October 7, 2014)

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