I absolutely adored Tashie Bhuiyan’s first book so of course I was incredibly excited for this one, especially since it hinted at a celebrity romance. While I don’t think her sophomore effort is as good as her debut, it’s still a fun and sweet story with enemies-to-lovers and an incredible meet-disaster.
Since she was a child, Mina has loved the movies. With her sights set on attending a prestigious program in California, she knows that her best bet to get in is to win the annual high school film competition. She’s written a solid script and her best friend Rosie is an amazing director, but there’s one problem. All of the past winners have had cameos from famous actors and they’ve got no leads on anyone. So when an up-and-coming actor starts shadowing a student at their school in preparation for a new role, it’s the perfect opportunity… except Emmitt and Mina do not get along. But then Emmitt proposes a trade. Mina will help him find subjects in New York City for a photo competition he’s entering and in return he’ll do a bit part in their film. The more time Mina spends with Emmitt, the less he seems like the jerk she took him for. But with the competition looming, she doesn’t have time for a friendship – or anything else – with him, right?
“My obsession with winning the competition is the only way I know how to get through the day right now. It gives me something to keep reaching for. It gives me a purpose. Most importantly, it gives me hope.”
This book feels a bit like the author took everything from Counting Down with You and turned it up to 11. Mina’s again from a Bangladeshi family, though this one is extremely disapproving of her choice to attend film school, to the point of being confident that she won’t be able to get in. The romance (with Emmitt, the half-Chinese half-British actor) starts with them as enemies, then friends, then into something else. But as opposed to the last book, in some ways, the romance here feels like an after-thought. There’s a lot going on in the book, from Mina’s relationship with her parents, her friendship with Rosie, her relationship with her sister, her battle with depression, the film competition, the photo competition… you get the point. Mina is extremely focused on her goal of getting into the film program in California and getting out of NYC (and away from her parents). Anything that threatens that goal or distracts her from it? Scorched earth, she doesn’t have time for it. And sometimes that includes Rosie, her sister Anam, and even Emmitt. There’s a point where she’s called selfish for being so driven, and while I understand where those people were coming from, I also felt like they didn’t have enough empathy for someone who was seriously going through a lot of stuff.
“You know, you could stand to be a little less rude,” he mutters.
“Probably,” I agree, before I shrug. “You could also stand to be a little less of a dickhead. Are either of us going to make an effort to stop? I highly doubt it.”
And that’s what really sticks with me with the author’s writing: Mina feels like a real teenager, flaws and all, and the representation of her depression especially struck a chord with me. While I wanted more of it, the banter between Mina and Emmitt was fun, and I found them both the yearning and then the reality of them as a couple incredibly sweet. I also enjoyed the touristy tour of NYC (and Mina’s slow realization of how much she’ll miss it). There’s something absolutely captivating and immersive about the author’s writing style and it was seriously hard for me to put down this book once I started. Bonus points for the Taylor Swift references (including “Cornelia Street”)!
“If I think about it too long, I get overwhelmingly sad. I wish my parents didn’t care so much about appearances. I wish our happiness was enough.”
Before this next part, I want to be clear I’m coming at this from a white, middle-aged cis woman’s perspective. I was disappointed, though, that the main character’s family was absolutely awful and that she felt disconnected from her heritage and religion. I understand the author is writing from her own experience, but it would be nice to have a main character that had positive associations with her culture. There are positive reflections of Bangladeshi families (like their cousins) where the parents respect their children’s choice of college major and the kids appear to not have the same hang-ups.
Overall, though I did have a number of concerns, I was still completely sucked into this book and I’ll definitely be picking up whatever the author writes next!
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.