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When I brought home Sara Farizan’s debut teen novel If You Could Be Mine, I peeked at the first sentence and got sucked in to the end. An hour after that first sentence, I lay on my belly in bed like a tween, my heart racing for the fate of my new best friend Sahar. An hour after that, I’d finished the book and fallen into a book hangover that lasted over two weeks. Other books seemed dull by comparison. My reading was suddenly limited to Sara Farizan’s Algonquin Young Adult Authors page. Life after If You Could Be Mine was as gut-wrenching as learning my new crush had switched schools.
Ten months later, a coworker handed me Farizan’s follow up teen novel, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. Once again lying on my belly with a Farizan book propped up Tiger Beat style, my crush had returned, and I was again immersed in the tumultuous teenage antics of my new best friend Leila. This time, the post-Crush hangover was easier to cope with because I know now that Sara Farizan is here to stay: she is winning awards and has officially knocked out any inkling of a sophomore slump. Finishing her second novel is easier because now, I can admit it: Hello! My name is Mel and I’m a Sara Farizan addict. Read her books and I’ll see you at meetings!
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan captures the mercurial mood swings of teenhood, complete with the anxiety of surviving mortifying moments and the seismic triumphs of socially getting over. Crush plops readers into the crowded hallways of Armstead Academy, a Bostonian private school in which whiteness, affluence and heterosexuality constitute the norm. Leila, a first generation Persian-American with “lady-loving inclinations,” flies under the radar (gaydar?), desperate to keep her secret from everyone—even her best friend and star athlete, Greg, “the kind of guy [she wishes she] could crush on.” Greg and Leila share an interest in comic books, hip hop music and zombie films, and most of their classmates think they’re covertly dating—but this sexual tension is decidedly one-sided (Greg-sided?). Drawn into an inadvertent love triangle with her two best friends at Armstead, Leila wishes she could pass the torch of Greg’s adoration to their mutual friend, Tess, a brainy and talented introvert who has had it bad for Greg “for forever but will never do anything about it.”
Then, there’s Lisa Katz, Leila’s best friend since childhood, who has already fallen in with the popular crowd by the time Leila makes it to Armstead. When Leila tries to reconnect with Lisa, she hits the wall her best friend has hidden herself behind since her older brother was killed in a car accident the previous year.
Leila is content talking pop culture with Greg and ditching P.E. class with Tess—until Saskia Lansing shows up. Half-Dutch and half-Brazilian, Saskia can speak four languages, is hilarious and so absolutely gorgeous that Leila deems her “a magical unicorn in a high school full of cattle.” Saskia is the Platonic ideal of the Dream Girl—and she has her eyes on Leila. Life should be sweet for Leila with Saskia running her life. But then, her grades start slipping, her friendships wither, and tension settles in at home. Life in Saskia’s orbit is exciting—and dangerous.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel expertly captures the impulsive passion and dwindling security that accompany young love. Boundaries are wrecked. Lies circulate as rumors. Feelings are hurt. Farizan’s characters are on a knife’s edge. Some scenes are familiar and warm-and-fuzzy; some scenes are frightful and faint-worthy. Crush reads like young love feels. At its core is not the question of whether Leila should come out to her friends and family, but whether or not Leila can trust Saskia—or herself around Saskia.
The reader is unsure alongside Leila, as the Crush world is revealed through her growing perceptions. She judges and makes assumptions about people, facing the consequences of her haste and learning valuable lessons. Leila learns that Saskia is more than a pretty face, that Greg’s feelings are not limited to attraction and repulsion, and that Lisa is more perceptive than she lets on. Leila also learns that her father is vulnerable, her mother is fiercely devoted, and her older sister Nahal has a few secrets of her own. Ultimately, the question of Leila’s disclosure is a catalyst for the characters in Crush, a smart and subtle critique of the world at large, with a lesson that the changes we undergo as we grow up never take place in a vacuum.
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
By Sara Farizan
Algonquin Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 9781616202842, 304 pp.