Today is my tour stop for the More Than Just a Pretty Face book tour! I need to take a moment to say thank-you to the tour organisers, Hear Our Voices, not only for providing me with an opportunity to read this brilliant book before it’s release but also for all the hard work they’re doing in getting OV books into the hands of OV reviewers and promoting OV authors! Keep an eye on the schedule to see all the creative content!
As someone who doesn’t read a lot of contemporaries or romances, when I do find one, I love it’s one of the best feelings in the world. That’s what happened with More Than Just a Pretty Face, I came to the end of the book and just wanted to hug it to my chest.
The writing did take a while to hit its flow and I attribute a lot of that to establishing character’s and their “brand”. Danyal is the pretty one, Kaval is the popular one, Zar is the best friend, Sohrab is the serious one etc. This certainly makes the characters feel one dimensional and doesn’t promise the best for the rest of the book – which is a mistake. The second half of the book felt really organic – I don’t think this is a coincidence that it starts happening when Danyal beings to really let go of this idea of being with Kaval. The way that the romantic relationship between Bisma and Danyal developed was just perfect, honestly. Masood managed to hit the nail on the head with the balance between characters genuinely being friends and having a platonic love for each other which grows into something much more intimate.
It felt real and soft and I really do love them with all my heart.
I really like the commentary this book had on colonialism, it’s an important discussion and it was explored in really meaningful way – not only was it a way of unmasking Churchill as a saviour, the greater theme in Danyal’s speech about race and seeing people as human was a fantastic direction to take the book when it had limited resources to hash this out previously. It was nice to see how at times it linked to the generational immigrant identity crisis (in a very loose way, I brought my own experiences to this particular interpretation). I think it says a lot about why you need to read ownvoices fiction. Not only is Danyal discovering for himself that “history is written by the victors” but it leads to questions like; “why didn’t I know this about my culture, my heritage?” It alludes to the feeling of disconnect that generational immigrants can feel, and I think this could have been a bigger discussion in the book.
I needed to take a moment to address the culinary aspect of this book all on its own. As someone who has worked in kitchens for eight years, I love seeing food descriptions in books and I love seeing restaurant kitchens in books. For me, it was such a great bonus. Whilst I don’t think Chef Brodeur’s very convenient knowledge of romance and the inner workings of people’s head is entirely realistic, I can easily let it go.
I feel like it would be remiss of me not to address the critique this book has received from other ownvoices reviewers. In case that wasn’t clear already, I am an OV reviewer for this title. The enactment of Muslim representation in fiction is complex, to say the least. I don’t personally feel like I have an intimate enough knowledge of all the rules of Islam to tell you whether or not this has good vs bad/harmful Muslim representation. What I can tell you is which parts I thought could have been dealt with more care, and which parts I did relate to. I personally do relate to a lot of this book from the perspective of Muslim culture; I relate to it as a currently non-practicing Muslim. While the humour is heavy handed at times, it’s my kind of humour and when reading I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I think it’s prudent as an OV reviewer to point out that, I may not have seen an issue with the way Muslim culture was used in the humour of this book – other OV reviewers have though, and that leads me to say this. The issue with this type of humour arises when non-Muslim readers read a novel like this and think that it’s okay for them to replicate the jokes, which it’s not. I don’t necessarily think that makes this book harmful though, in my opinion.
The biggest element in the book which felt a little unnecessary was the way in which Sohrab and his relationship to the practice of Islam was presented in the book. Sohrab is increasingly described as being more obsessed with religion, spending his free time reading articles and attending lectures on the topic. This isn’t inherently problematic. It was the fact that the author chose to approach it as if Sohrab was being more oppressive – or even being oppressed by his pursuit in religion. He’s described as looking exhausted by it. In the novel, it’s later attributed to the fact that Sohrab feels helpless in a world where so much is wrong. I liked the sentiment of where this ended up because it’s a crushing experience, to be under the weight of wanting to help but you feel like you barely make a dent. Having said that, for a large part of the book Sohrab is essentially this extremist character. Which is a harmful stereotype and didn’t need to be present in the book for this conversation to take place. It would have been a greatly improved dynamic if the character in the book – Danyal, Kaval, Zar – hadn’t had a bad reaction to Sohrab wanting to devote his time to Islam, and instead supported him.
A bit overwhelmed with the good and the bad? Here’s what you need to know: I really liked this book. I had a fantastic time reading it. The last ten percent had me squealing all over the place. The only caveat I have in recommending this is that it’s not as nuanced regarding religion as it could have been. The practice of Islam in this book had it’s good and its bad aspects, at times it’s inconsistent and altered to fit the narrative – but like I said, I still related to the book and the cultural representation as a whole.
More Than Just a Pretty Face is a fun heart-warming romcom that had important discussions, by an author of colour and I urge you to support it.
I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.