More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

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More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood
Little, Brown, 2020

Pakistani American Danyal Jilani is in his senior year at high school and is coasting through life on charm and good looks. He has little interest in school and wants to become a chef, much to the displeasure of his parents and his crush, Kaval, who want him to go to college and pursue an appropriate career. But then Danyal’s life is upturned: he meets Bishma as a potential match for an arranged marriage and he is surprisingly selected by his cranky History teacher to be a candidate in his school’s annual Renaissance Man competition giving him a chance to shine academically in front of his parents and Kaval.

But when Danyal, with Bishma’s guidance, starts to research his History teacher’s beloved Winston Churchill, he discovers that there are many skeletons in Churchill’s colonial closet, including his role in the Bengal Famine in which 3 million people starved to death. Should he tell this story or should he follow his parents’ and Kaval’s instructions to toe the line?

Though this is a breezy romantic novel, it does tackle some serious topics, including colonialism, slut shaming and gender equity. All of the major characters are Muslim South Asian Americans and the cultural and religious customs as well as the demands and rewards of that community are central to the novel. As Danyal, guided by Bishma, prepares his essay and presentation for the tournament, he begins to see that only by making himself proud can he hope to inspire that in others.

Thanks to Little, Brown and Netgalley for the digital review copy.

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