More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood
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Overview: Danyal just wants to cook. He feels at home and at peace in the kitchen. He dreams of owning his own restaurant one day. Luckily, he has the talent to back up his passion. Unfortunately, his father doesn't approve of his chosen profession and neither does his crush's parents. As his parents try to match him with other prospects for marriage, Danyal enters the Renaissance Man competition at school to try to prove to everyone that he's smarter than they think. One of his matches, Bisma, ends up helping him prepare. Even though they didn't click at first, the more time he spends with Bisma, the clearer his future becomes. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 All the characters in this book pop and have distinct voices of their own. From teachers and mentors to his parents and friends, Danyal's world is full and creatively built. He has a complete network to compliment his character growth.
Danyal has been told he's stupid enough times to start to kind of believe it. He doesn't think he's an idiot, but he's used to the put-downs and is well aware that school is not his forte. I loved seeing a YA character who didn't excel in school but thrived outside of it. His brain just wasn't a fit for the traditional eduction system, and I think we need to be more accepting that that's the reality for a lot of people. Instead of punishing those who don't thrive in that box, we should be encouraging students to discover what their strength or passion is. I love how Danyal illustrated the importance of that throughout the book. Everyone being so harsh on him made his blatant overconfidence more endearing.
Kaval, on the other hand, is harder to find redeeming value in. She's Danyal's first crush, and it's hard to tell whether she likes him back or not. Either way, if she's accepting him, she wants to change the vast majority of his personality. Kaval comes off as really mean and shallow, so my only critique of the book really would be how the love triangle isn't balanced at all. There's a clearly better option.
Bisma is Kaval's opposite. She has scars from her past, so she's much more open to Danyal's imperfections. She's always reminding him to stop putting himself down. She's also incredibly intelligent and funny. I really connected to Bisma and enjoyed learning more about her through the book.
Like I mentioned earlier, I also love the roll mentors play in the book. His parents aren't the most supportive people, so I'm glad he's able to find guidance outside of the house, particularly from the head chef at the restaurant he works at.
Plot: 5 The storyline kept me engaged the entire time. Danyal is a really engaging character to follow. I also loved the arch he went on with Renaissance Man leading him to think more critically about history, who gets to write it, and the parts that are conveniently left out by the people who would rather not be remembered for the atrocities they committed. It feels so topical for the current moment where we're really starting to re-examine what we learned and what we're taught. I found it super compelling and Masood snuck in a ton of fascinating research points.
Then, of course, there's the love triangle-romance thing. I really liked the second half of the narrative after he starts to realize that Kaval really is just trying to play off of people's damage to his self esteem. When he really focuses on Bisma, they have some swoony, sweet scenes that made me fall for them fast. In this part, they have to fight to have their love recognized by their parents. This brings up some interesting dialogues about the purpose of religion, the complexities of how sinning is approached, and where people get to draw the line of making their own judgements.
The book touched on a number of deep topics in a super thoughtful way, all while keeping the plot flowing.
Writing: 5 What I loved most about the book was the voice. Voice always makes a book for me, and this one jumped off the page with so much personality that carried through Danyal's inner monologues into the unique speech patterns of all the secondary characters. For as serious as a lot of the discussions were, the book was consistently laugh out loud funny, striking the perfect balance.
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