Sara Farizan’s second novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, is a genuinely sweet story of high school queerness. It can definitely be categorized as a “quick read” – but perhaps that is just because once I started reading, I never wanted to put it down.
The story revolves around Leila, an Iranian American teenager attending a small private high school in Massachusetts. Leila has been with the same group of classmates for as long as she can remember, so when a new girl named Saskia arrives with some international flair and a whole lot of personality, Leila can’t help but be attracted to her.
Leila discovered her attraction to women at summer camp, but she is definitely not ready to share this fact with anyone at home. When Saskia seems to be interested in her as more than just a friend, Leila is thrilled, but extremely nervous about what could happen if her classmates and her traditional Persian family discovered her secret. What follows is an absorbing story of Leila’s pursuit of love and acceptance, where she learns more about herself and her peers than she could have ever predicted.
I loved the plot and pacing of this book – it was accessible, quick, and much funnier than I expected it to be. Farizan also creates a fantastic cast of characters, developing the voices of various high schoolers to bring Leila’s story to life. Many of these characters are modeled on teenage archetypes – from the vampire techie who works backstage at the school play to the brilliant but hopelessly innocent faculty brat – but Farizan is skilled at manipulating their quirks in order to counter the stereotypes.
Leila (and the reader, by extension) really get to know the personalities behind the facades of those students who are on the fringes of the high school social scene. This sets up some great parallels between Leila’s hidden gayness and the other characters’ concealed true selves; Farizan’s story ultimately sends the message that we all have our secrets, that people are not always as they seem, and that sometimes you are rewarded when you decide to trust another person with your story.
In this way, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel is as much about friendship as it is about crushes. In questioning what it means to truly be friends with someone, Farizan reveals how friends and allies often exist in unexpected places. One of my favorite examples is Leila’s adorable relationship with her English teacher, Ms. Taylor.
It was also really refreshing to see that Leila’s best friend is a guy. Although this was a complicated relationship at times, it was really nice to read a story that depicts a deep, sibling-like bond between a female and a male character that [spoiler alert] doesn’t end in romance. Even in the realm of queer YA novels, I’ve found that these bonds between male and female characters are sorely underrepresented.
Recently, I saw Farizan speak on the Tough Topics in YA Literature panel at the Boston Book Festival, where she explained that Leila was definitely more like she was as a teenager than the leading ladies of her debut novel, If You Could Be Mine. This became clear as I read Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – Leila’s genuine voice and sarcastic humor read very naturally, and seem to reflect Farizan’s personality. I could not be more thankful that Farizan has decided to contribute her unique voice to young lesbian literature, and can’t wait to see what she writes next.