by Tashie Bhuiyan
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Genres: Young Adult, Romance
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.
How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »
I made the mistake of starting read this book at bedtime and the next thing I knew I’d finished the book and it was the next day. While I don’t share the same cultural background, Karina’s struggles with anxiety and her family reminded me so much of my own teen years. This book is an emotional rollercoaster as Karina and Ace each learn to stand up for their own happiness.
While Karina will miss her parents while they’re gone for a month in Bangladesh, she’s also relieved to have a temporary escape from them, and to spend some time with her Dadu, her grandmother. Things start going sideways when her English teacher asks her to tutor Ace, the school’s bad boy. Though Karina doubts he’ll even show up, she agrees to avoid disappointing the teacher, something that would trigger her anxiety, especially as English is the subject Karina feels most drawn to, even though she’s aiming for a pre-med program at her parents’ direction. As Karina gets to know Ace, though, she realizes there’s more to him than the image he presents – and maybe that’s true for Karina as well.
This book is extremely character driven, and all from Karina’s first-person POV. As the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, she’s aware of how much they’ve worked to provide for her and her brother and doesn’t want to appear ungrateful, but sometimes she feels that it’s all for their benefit rather than hers. Even though on some level she resents the pressure and restrictions placed on her by her parents, she still loves them, which makes challenging them, even on small things, extremely hard. Probably because of that, Karina’s only recently come to understand that she has anxiety. She spends lots of late nights researching coping techniques, from journalling her thoughts to aromatherapy candles. One of the things that seem to work best for her is to repeatedly counting back from 10, as is prayer. I liked that while she is Muslim and it’s a part of her identity, it’s not one of the conflicts in the book. She’s clear to separate her religion from the Bangladeshi traditions that she views as too restrictive and controlling.
“You should do something fun,” Ace says, poking me with the end of his plastic spoon. “Who knows when you’ll get another chance.”
“Ace, let’s not do this,” I say, suddenly tired. There are certain things I will never be able to do, and I’m not in the mood to explain our cultural differences to him. “This isn’t… Let’s get back to studying.”
Ace stares at me for a long beat of silence. “I didn’t mean to overstep,” he says quietly. “Teach away, Ahmed.”
My lips curve upward, and the tension in him eases, a smile flitting past his own lips.
Karina and Ace are opposite sides of the same coin. While Karina feels she has to earn her parents’ affection by being the perfect Bangladeshi daughter, Ace feels the only way to get it from his is to act out. With a dad who works constantly and a supposedly perfect older brother, being the black sheep is the way for him to stand out, even if it’s not really the person he is. Rather than the awful person Karina expects, Ace is actually nice, and while he’s initially dismissive of the study aids Karina’s put together, her obvious love for the subject eventually piques his interest. One of the things I really liked about him is that Ace respects her boundaries. Sure, he can never understand what it’s like for her, but when she tells him not to do something, he doesn’t do it again. For Karina, that makes him someone who it’s almost relaxing to be around. As the tutoring goes on and their relationship progresses, there’s a lot of angst over what would happen if her parents found out, but it’s overall a supportive, wonderful thing for both of them.
“Ace is hot and he’s offering to buy her books. That’s like…perfect for Karina.”
“Yeah, but in case you happened to forget, Karina’s parents are batshit,” Nandini says, “and if they find out about this, it doesn’t matter how hot Ace is, because they’re going to kill her.”
“Kill me first,” I beg hopelessly. “At least it’ll be quick.”
“See? This is why she should’ve told Ace to go fuck himself,” Nandini says, running a soothing hand down my back.
I loved Karina’s group of friends. I loved how they gently encouraged her to fight for her own happiness, and gave her space when she needed it. I also liked how her relationship with her brother Samir was handled. From her perspective, her parents act like he’s the perfect child, naturally interested in the sciences. He’s younger than her and completely oblivious to the differences in how their parents treat them, but once Karina points it out, he starts paying attention and then quietly supports her. I especially loved her Dadu. If Karina’s parents represent everything restrictive about Bangladeshi culture, Dadu is everything good. She’s supportive, gently asking questions about Karina’s interests when her parents ignore her in favor of her younger brother, and she truly listens. While she, too, worries about her relationship with Ace, rather than going full nuke and confining Karina to the house, she gently warns her about it and then trusts Karina.
There are a lot of things left hanging at the end of the book. Usually this would be frustrating for me, but I thought it actually fit with the rest of the book. Karina’s push for happiness is a work in progress, but she’s done it once and she can do it again. After all, she’s only sixteen and she has her whole life ahead of her – a life chosen by her, and not her parents.
Overall, I loved this book and can’t wait to see what the author writes next. And as a final note, since I’m white and Christian, I also wanted to link to a Muslimah’s notes on how Islam plays a role in the book.