Book Title: More Than Just a Pretty Face
Author: Syed M. Masood
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release: August 4th 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
For fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han, a sweetly funny YA rom-com debut about falling in love, familial expectations, and being a Renaissance Man.
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.
Content/trigger warnings at the end of this post may contain spoilers.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for reviewing purposes as part of a blog tour. This does not influence my opinions in any way.
This is one of the cutest books I’ve read in such a long time! With its focus on how historical events have come to be perceived, More Than Just a Pretty Face is indeed more than just its pretty cover and a cute Halal romance!
Oh. Just that you should always remember that men, almost entirely without exception, are complete idiots.
To be completely honest, I didn’t savor this book. I devoured it. I’ve read this in, what, less than a day? And for a slow reader, that says a lot about how I loved this book. Everything about this has me really engrossed and before I knew it, the story was coming to an end.
I think a huge factor as to why I’ve consumed this really quickly is that I love the characters. Starting off, I immediately liked our protagonist, Danyal Jilani. I found him to be likable and charismatic. Aside from that, he has the purest heart because he always thinks the best about people, even if they’re being outright cruel to him. Danyal is an absolute sweetheart as well for trying to mend the friendship of his two best friends. Meanwhile, Bisma Akram is another character I felt really attached to. She played a huge part in Danyal’s character development but what really drew me in her was her intellect and warm personality despite having gone through a lot so I really felt for her.
I ended up doing an image search instead. I mean, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? So if you look at ten pictures, you’ve already read like twenty books.
While we’re on the topic of characters, I have to mention Suri as my favorite! At 15 years old, she is mature and I admire her for being aware of the flaws in society. Also, I love how honest she is about her thoughts, she isn’t scared to say what’s on her mind. Plus she’s really funny as well! With that said, I do feel attached to these characters albeit finding them to be unrealistic sometimes. But I have noticed that some of the other characters, like Danyal’s best friends, seem to fall flat for me.
“Because they only care about what things look like, not what things really are. They tell stories that make them look noble and innocent, because if those are the only stories people hear, then those are the stories they will believe.”
From the cover and synopsis, you’d think that this book would be a cute read. Well, it certainly is but it’s also definitely more, tackling important topics like how history was written based on the colonizer’s narrative.
So the story follows our main character who is expected to present an essay about Winston Churchill depicted in a positive manner, but Danyal discovers how twisted the actual happenings in the past were putting him in a difficult position. This is reminiscent for me because, okay STORY TIME: when I was in high school, our history teacher made us write a thesis on certain historical figures in our country, which were randomly assigned. I got one of our country’s former
dictator president. And it was no secret that my teacher was a supporter of him, his ideals and everything he’s done in his regime. My teacher even slightly hinted that the sensible thing for me to do was focus on accomplishments alone and basically praise him for robbing the Filipino people of money and rights. It didn’t take me more than 3 minutes to decide to do the exact opposite of what my teacher wanted. I admit I’m not the best at articulating the things I stand for but in behalf of all the Filipinos who suffered during that time, I poured everthing I had on that essay. Although I know it may not have made any effect whatsoever, since we weren’t asked to present in front of an audience like Danyal in the story was, at least I showed my teacher that I care and I spoke out. Of course I barely got a passing grade, but I am hella proud of what I did.
I could tell it was going to be good before it was done. I loved that feeling, that certainty in the excellence of my own work, which I’d only ever found in a kitchen. Sure, I got a lot of attention for looking good, but the ability to create something beautiful was so much better because it was something I’d earned, not something that I’d just been given.
ANYWAY. I’ve also found myself reading quite some books recently with cooking as elemental roles in their story, and this one is no exception. The amazing Halal food mentioned in this book further added to my reading experience.
The romance aspect in this didn’t disappoint either, and it’s something I really enjoyed reading. At some point, I was worried that a love triangle would emerge but I’m glad with how the story unfolded. There were some fun banter and the romance wasn’t too in-your-face. Danyal and Bisma have good compatibility and I can’t help but gush whenever they’re together.
“That’s amazing that you can do that.”
“What?” I asked.
“Just, you know, make music by touching something.”
You can do it too, I thought, remembering how the rhythm of my heart had changed when she’d wrapped her arm around mine.
I can’t say much about the representation and religion aspect on this one, as I am not a Muslim, but it was interesting to learn about their beliefs and traditions. However, I can see how the delivery of it sometimes wasn’t the best so I understand how other readers may have not been a fan of it.
Furthermore, I was put off with some of the comments coming out as a bit offensive, albeit used to evoke humor and a lighter atmosphere. I noticed this especially with how Danyal was constantly barraged with comments about how he’s not the brightest bulb in the room. I get that it’s probably the author wanting to emphasize Danyal’s character for the storyline but I think it was a bit much.
Overall, More Than Just a Pretty Face is an absolutely fun and important read which I encourage you to pick up. With the scrumptious Halal food, cute romance and a long-lasting impact, this book will surely give readers a delightful experience!
Click to reveal content warnings which may contain spoilers for the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and currently live in Sacramento, California. There have been plenty of stops in between though. I’m a first generation immigrant, twice over. I’ve been a citizen of three different countries and lived in nine cities.
I am, as Goethe, said, “nothing but a wanderer […] on this earth.”
Living among different people, in different countries at fascinating times in their histories, has shaped both my view of the world and my writing. Ultimately, human beings are the same everywhere (despite the fact that they tell themselves, everywhere, that they are different from each other), and the theme of this fundamental human unity informs everything I write.
As to my life outside of writing, I went to the William and Mary School of Law, and before that attended the University of Toronto, where I studied English Literature. I am currently practicing as an attorney and must “measure out my life in coffee spoons” on a daily basis.
Some members of my family will tell you that I’m also a poet. This isn’t true. I wrote a few poems in Urdu when I was a teenager, and I’ve never heard the end of it…which I wouldn’t mind, honestly, if they were any good. As it is, I’m very happy living in prose, thank you very much.
Other interests include good food, video games, sitcoms, and books of all kinds. Most of my time that doesn’t go to writing or billable hours is consumed by my two children, four and two years of age.
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