reviews

Review | Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Persian lesbian MC | My Rating: ⭐️⭐️

My Synopsis—22729344

High school junior Leila knows that she’s a lesbian, but she’s keeping it a secret for several reasons: she doesn’t know how her friends will react, and she’s terrified of how her Persian family will deal with the news. She already feels so different from her classmates that she doesn’t want any more attention.

When new girl shows up, Leila can’t help the feelings she has for the beautiful, charming Saskia. When it appears that Saskia might return Leila’s feelings, she’s over the moon, but not for long.

Leila struggles to confront her feelings and deal with Saskia’s erratic, confusing signals, and ends up confiding in a few people she never thought she could trust. In a world where everyone is more complicated than they appear, will Leila have the courage to be her full self?

*This review will contain mild spoilers in the the interest of saving potential readers from harm.*

I appreciated that this is an #OwnVoices book about a Persian lesbian, something that I don’t think exists anywhere else in YA. The main story follows Leila’s anxiety surrounding her sexuality, and it felt very organic. Part of her fear stems from her cultural background; in Iran, being gay is a punishable offense, and she worries that her parents will disown her if she tells them she likes girls. I also really enjoyed learning more about Persian culture, from the constant competition between kids of different families to the way different Persians practice different religions.

That being said, this book was a huge disappointment for several reasons.

biphobia & bisexual erasure

There are more characters in this book who are coded bisexual than there are gay characters. Yet for each character interested in more than one gender, their potential identity is erased.

First, there’s Leila’s ex, Anastasia, who left her for “some guy.” Anastasia is coded bisexual, but it’s never stated; instead, the reader is left to form their own judgments of this character based on biphobic stereotypes—namely, the one that says “all bisexuals will cheat on you with a person of another gender.”

We also have two other characters who refuse labels: an adult confidant of Leila’s who reveals she had a “lesbian phase” in college, yet now only dates men (read: “bisexuality is just a phase”), and a young female character who resists the bi word because she doesn’t like labels (encouraging questioning readers to also resist the bisexual label as dirty).

And finally, we have Saskia, who’s a complete caricature of all the worst stereotypes of bisexuality: she’s hyper-sexualized (and referred to as “exotic”—a hugely problematic description for a POC) and uses sex to manipulate people of multiple genders. She’s completely unfaithful (because again, “all bisexuals are cheaters”) and downright abusive at various points, sexually assaulting Leila twice. While Saskia never states that she’s bisexual, it’s implied in her stereotypical behavior.

Any of these characters could have identified as bisexual and opened up a conversation about the fluidity of sexuality, especially when you’re a teenager. Any one of them could have defied some of the stereotypes of bisexuality. Instead, they’re erased, stereotyped, and left up to reader interpretation.

Additionally, we have the only out gay character, Tomas. When he discovers that Leila’s gay, he claims to be “grossed out” presumably by the idea of having sex with a girl. He then claims that lesbians have it easier because guys think they’re hot—which is basically like saying that everyone wants to be fetishized. Throughout the book, Tomas is set up as what I personally term the Queer Mentor character: the already out character who helps the MC come to terms with their own queerness. But Tomas is constantly condescending and catty toward Leila; he’s more of a gay stereotype than a character. His problematic comments are never addressed, but somehow he’s supposed to be one of Leila’s best friends. Do Not Understand.

ableist coding of the antagonist

As the story progresses and Saskia’s behavior becomes more and more problematic, she’s repeatedly referred to as “crazy” and “psycho.” This kind of language is extremely problematic, especially since it’s not addressed. Even worse, we never find out what Saskia’s motivations were; nobody is that manipulative just to spite people, not without something that caused her to become this person. Again, there could’ve been character development and a nuanced discussion, and instead, we got problematic language thrown around.

All of this boils and simmers until we get to the climax of the story: Leila’s outing. While I appreciated the cute scene where she tells her mom and receives comfort for who she is, the adorableness is undercut by the climax: when Saskia assults and forcibly outs Leila to the entire school. I get that many queer teens are outed before they’re ready; but portraying it this way is extremely problematic. Everyone deserves to come out when they’re ready—and sometimes people don’t come out for years! Some of us are not even real out at all and we’re just fine, thank you! Sometimes it’s legitimately not safe for us to come out—which is how Leila’s story was set up, but then everything turns out okay in the end and it rings false to me.

Overall Recommendation:

While this might be great rep for lesbians, particularly lesbians of color, this book could be incredibly harmful for bisexuals, pansexuals, and those on the mental health spectrum. Additionally, I feel it should come with a warning due to how Leila is ultimately outed against her will. I’m giving the book 2 stars because I did appreciate getting to see a lesbian who isn’t white, but I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to queer readers.

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In light of this disappointment, let’s talk about some awesome lesbian protagonists! Drop me a line in the comments and let’s share some better recs! 

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9 thoughts on “Review | Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel”

  1. Great review, Christine! Thank you so, so much for sharing your thoughts about this book and mentioning that it could be harmful – it’s definitley important to have some trigger warnings before heading into a story. I’m glad you still managed to give this two stars and found a couple of tiny positive things about it ahah. I haven’t read this book yet and I don’t know if I will now. 🙂
    One book I can think of now, where I really loved the main characters and storyline, and the character was a lesbian, is Everything Leads To You, it was a fantastic book with a great f/f romance 🙂

    1. OMG I loved Everything Leads to You! I read it a few years back but it’s on the list of “books I would totally read again” because it was so adorable and unique. I love Nina LaCour’s writing style. I’m looking forward to reading her latest, We Are Okay, this year.

      1. Ohh yay, I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I haven’t read We Are Okay yet, either, but I’m so looking forward to it as well 🙂

  2. hello! another great review 🙂 this book sounds really problematic and I’ve heard that ‘A Court of Wings and Ruin’ is also awful with a similarly limited and stereotypical depiction of bisexuality to this book… I love how you end the review with a call out for depictions of awesome lesbian protagonists and I recommend ‘Stir Fry’ and ‘Hood’ by Emma Donoghue; two book I read in my late teens and loved. One I haven’t read yet but which is high on my TBR list is ‘Read me like a Book’ by Liz Kessler 🙂 I also recommend ‘The Night Watch’ by Sarah Waters and ‘Unspeakable’ by Abbie Rushton was ok but maybe a bit over-dramatic…

    1. I recently read Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters and I definitely want to check out more of her stuff. I love historical LGBT+ fiction. I need to check out some Emma Donoghue stuff as well. Thanks for the recs 💖

  3. Great review! Very well-thought out and detailed. I’m sorry the book was such a disappointment though!

  4. Aww…I’m so sad to hear this was so disappointing. 😦 I definitely see where you’re coming from though – misrepresentation is always so aggravating. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

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