More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020, 352 pages
Trigger Warnings: non-consensual recording and distribution of a video documenting a character having sex (off-page); sex-shaming; discussions of colonialism
About the Author: “Syed M. Masood grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and now lives with his wife and children in Sacramento, California, where he is a practicing attorney. He wrote a few couplets in Urdu when he was a teenager, and his family still tells everyone he is an Urdu poet. He is not. More Than Just a Pretty Face is his debut young adult novel.” (Bio taken from the author’s profile on the LBYR website.)
High school senior Danyal Jilani is more than just a pretty face. While he sometimes struggles in school, Danyal is a gifted young chef with charm to spare—even if the culinary arts is definitely not his father’s preferred career path. And that’s not the only thing on his plate. Danyal is also smitten with his best friend’s sister, the gorgeous Kaval, who seems totally out of his league. So, when Danyal is suddenly in the running for Renaissance Man—a schoolwide academic competition in which one student is chosen to represent each subject—he finally has the chance to prove himself. But things get a little complicated when Danyal asks Bisma, the microbiology student his parents set him up with, for help preparing. As Dunyal and Bisma grow closer, he’ll have to ask himself: Is Kaval really the girl of his dreams?
From debut author Syed M. Masood, More Than Just a Pretty Face is a new YA rom-com about familial expectations, the complexities of young love, and exposing the villainous pasts of supposed historical “heroes.” Danyal’s voice is delightfully witty and sarcastic, but also surprisingly vulnerable. Some of the novel’s most touching moments peel back his armor of charm and humor to reveal hidden insecurities, like his deep-seated fear of never being good enough for anyone. When his blossoming bond with Bisma suddenly complicates his long-standing adoration of Kaval, readers witness an adorable slow-burn romance unfold alongside an examination of how we can sometimes idealize other people as something—or rather someone—they’re not.
After Dunyal is chosen by his history teacher for Renaissance Man, the story explores the whitewashed legacy of the often revered, though unequivocally catastrophic, Winston Churchill — opening up a crucial conversation surrounding the Bengal Famine, colonialism, and the continued heroization of white colonizers in Western culture. On that note, I’m always excited to see more Muslim representation (both author- and character-wise) in young adult literature, especially in such Muslim-led romantic comedies as More Than Just a Pretty Face. However, I personally cannot speak to the novel’s representation of Islam, not being Muslim myself, and would therefore highly encourage reading some OwnVoices reviews for an analysis of this aspect of the story.
(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)
PRR Writer, Hannah Miller
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