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Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.
When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man–a school-wide academic championship–it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.
Title: More than Just a Pretty Face
Author: Syed M. Masood
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA, Romance, Contemporary
This book was a much-needed interruption to my daily life of selfish thoughts and meaningless concourses. I feel it’s only appropriate to quote Mean Girls when describing this book, “…[This book] punched me in the face…It was awesome.”
I’m going to start with the negative since this time, it’s all wrapped in positives. I often found myself thinking this book was boring yet intriguing. Even odder, there was never a middle ground. I was never mildly interested; only bored or intrigued. This is what contributes to the less than a five-star review. However, my intrigue outweighed my boredom and I finished the book with a smile.
We experience this book through the eyes of Danyal, a good-looking, confident young man who lacks in the intelligence department. So when he’s asked to participate in an academic competition, things get interesting. Danyal has a very distinct and consistent voice throughout the book. We learn that he’s confident about his looks and flirting with girls, but insecure in his inability to differentiate helium from hydrogen. He is insanely committed to his goal of becoming a chef but fickle in his exact obedience to his religion.
These are a few of the things that make him the best possible narrator through which to experience this story. There were some heavy topics discussed throughout the book, but when presented through Danyal’s playful and teenager-y voice, it lessened the blow. Or maybe made it feel more important and attainable.
Along with Danyal, we get to meet some other characters who have left a smile on my face. First on my list is Mr. Tippett, Danyal’s history teacher and Renaissance Man sponsor. He and Danyal have a hate/really hate relationship that is both entertaining and insightful. Mr. Tippett is always pushing Danyal to do more and become a better student to which Danyal always protests. I love Mr. Tippett.
Then we have the chef that runs the restaurant Danyal works at, Chef Brodeur. Similar to Mr. Tippett, she is always pushing Danyal to become a better chef and person, but she does so in a way that is both humorous and scary. She is a woman to be feared in the absolute best way. I think I learned almost as much from her as Danyal and his speech. I love Chef Brodeur.
Lastly, we have Bisma. Without giving too much away, I just have to say that I love the dynamic between Bisma and Danyal. It just works. I love Bisma.
These people all work with Danyal in his attempt to portray what he feels and learns about Winston Churchhill and perception vs. truth. My head nearly fell off with all the wisdom that was bestowed upon me as I read this book that I have to wonder what kind of knowledge Masood spits out on the daily. But seriously, the message this book communicates is enlightening, thought-provoking, and much needed in our world today. There were many times as I read this book that I had to stop and just think about what I read. I don’t get enough of that in my contemporary romance novels.
Overall, this was a great book on change, love, and speaking up about what you know to be right. There is the perfect amount of romance mixed with the plea to think and act differently than you did before you read this book. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to receive a chastening, and who is willing to put up with some boring bits to get to the good stuff.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.