Book Review: TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL by Sara Farizan

In this sweet, quippy young adult comedy, closeted teen lesbian Leila deals with an unexpected crush on her private high school’s newest student, Saskia. The crush upends Leila’s friend group and her relationships with her conservative-but-loving Persian American family, forcing her to choose between coming out as her girl-loving best self or staying quiet and isolated till graduation.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel isn’t just great because of the nuanced representation it offers queer teens, especially teens from immigrant families. It’s also great because Sara Farizan is such a funny, charming writer, infusing this book with lightness and fun even as it tackles serious issues of grief, bullying, friend breakups, and homophobia. I highly recommend this book for teens–and there’s a lot for adults to love, too.

You can read my full review below.


Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel Cover
cover description: Two girls’ faces are opposite to each other on the cover, one at the top of the cover and one on the bottom. The background is pink stripes.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

  • publisher: Algonquin Young Readers (an imprint of Algonquin Books)
  • publication date: hardcover in 2014, paperback in 2015
  • length: 320 pages

“Look at how pretty you are!” Mom exclaims. “You should straighten your hair all the time!” Well, I guess that’s one thing I can straighten about myself.

–from Tell Me Again How a  Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel has the vibe of an indie teen dramedy in the vein of Juno or Lady Bird. It’s full of great jokes that deliver a potent shot of anger, sadness, and other complicated feelings about growing up alongside all the belly laughs.

Leila is a Persian (Iranian) American teenager who attends a fancy private high school. She’s an okay student but not a great one, much to the gentle chagrin of her parents, who hold out hope she’ll be a doctor like her sister someday. She has two best friends, geeky athlete Tess and zombie movie aficionado Greg, even though her childhood best friend Lisa has ditched her to become a popular kid.

Leila carefully cultivates as “normal” a life as possible despite being a closeted lesbian, a secret she’s convinced will ruin her life if her conservative parents ever find out. It’s her junior year, and she’s doing pretty great at keeping everything under wraps so far–until a flashy, gorgeous new student named Saskia arrives and ruins everything.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel ambles along at a leisurely pace, and its stakes never feel particularly high. Despite Leila’s intense fear of her parents’ reaction to her sexuality, it’s pretty clear from the start that they love her unconditionally, and that their homophobia is the knee-jerk kind rather than the violent, put-your-kid-out-onto-the-street kind. That’s why it surprised me that this book gripped me the way it did.

Like Juno (truly this book’s tonal match–Leila is Ellen Page with slightly less affected quips), Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is light and airy right up until it packs an emotional wallop that’s enough to knock the wind out of you.

Sara Farizan writes teens just right. I was 19 in 2014, when this book was published, so Farizan was probably writing this book right around my own junior year. I was homeschooled and didn’t attend high school, but I still recognized myself in all of Farizan’s teen characters. Using humor as a defense mechanism, making cringey decisions, not knowing how to just use their words instead of assuming and fumbling through. But like most real-world teenagers, these teens are also brilliant, good-hearted, and way more socially mature than adults give them credit for. Watching them, especially Leila, grow up over the course of the novel was a treat.

It’s been awhile since a book made me giggle in public, but Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel actually made me ugly-snort. (Maybe be careful taking this book into waiting rooms or on public transit.) This book also made me cry, simply because it transported me back to the closet perfectly. Leila is so afraid of what everyone around her will think about her sexuality, even though she knows, deep down, that she is loved and cared for. I’m glad that YA books about high-stakes, life-threatening homophobia exist, since that’s certainly an experience that many teens are facing. But I think just as many teens face Leila’s situation: one where they’re not in danger, exactly, but where they still need to make heart-pounding choices and confessions that their straight peers never have to consider.

That Leila is proudly Persian, without the whole book being about her Persian-ness in a scrutinizing, othering way, is the cherry on top of the important representation Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel has on offer.

Most of all, I appreciated how Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel tackled unhealthy lesbian relationships. Many LGBTQIA+ novels portray queer relationships in a carefully sanitized light, ensuring that there are no rough patches where homophobes, biphobes, and transphobes might latch on and decide that all their worst beliefs about queer and trans people are true.

I understand why authors take that kind of care, but it’s still frustrating to see so many tidy queer relationships and characters when I want messy ones, too.

Without spoiling anything, there’s plenty of mess in Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, and it’s what transforms this book from a four-star book into a five-star one. Farizan could so easily have chosen to make this a featherweight YA comedy. If she had, it would have still been a good book, but the grit makes it memorable. It’s an entertaining and enjoyable experience from start to finish, but featherweight it is not.

Reading Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel felt as nostalgic and lovely to me as the taste of Nutella or the smell of the Haribo fizzy colas my friends and I ate by the bagful at summer camp. Farizan is a gifted writer who makes both comedy and tragedy feel effortless. This book has a little something for everyone, but if you know a questioning or out-and-proud teen, it would be a real gift to buy them a copy. I wish this book had been there when I was a 17-year-old lesbian. ★★★★★


I purchased my own copy of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel and was in no way compensated for this review.

Friday Bookbag, 7.12.19

FridayBookbag

Friday Bookbag is a weekly feature where I share a list of books I’ve borrowed, bought, or received during the week. It’s my chance to buzz about my excitement for books I might not get the chance to review.

I’m catching up on a backlog of purchases over the past few weeks when I was taking a break from blogging, so expect extra-stuffed Friday Bookbags for the next few weeks.

This week I’ve got a novel about an Afghani family in crisis, a memoir of teaching English undercover in North Korea, and two very different (and exciting!) lesbian YA titles.


When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

When the Moon is Low Cover
cover description: A hijabi woman sits on a hill and gazes at the moon.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“In Kabul, we meet Fereiba, a schoolteacher who puts her troubled childhood behind her when she finds love in an arranged marriage. But Fereiba’s comfortable life implodes when the Taliban rises to power and her family becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime. Forced to flee with her three children, Fereiba has one hope for survival: to seek refuge with her sister’s family in London. 

Traveling with forged papers and depending on the kindness of strangers, Fereiba and the children make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness, the start of a harrowing journey that reduces her from a respected wife and mother to a desperate refugee.”

why I’m excited: “Excited” seems like the wrong word to use about my feelings for a book with a premise this sad, but this book has gotten great reviews, so I’m interested to read it. It’s about an earlier refugee crisis than the ones that make the news right now, but it still couldn’t be more timely.

Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

the premise: From Goodreads:

Without You There Is No Us Cover
cover description: An illustration of a classroom against a reddish-pink background. Shadowy figures look up at portraits of North Korean leaders.

“Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has gone undercover as a missionary and a teacher. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them English, all under the watchful eye of the regime.”

why I’m excited: This is the real-life memoir of a woman who went undercover in North Korea. I’m fascinated by how difficult and dangerous that must have been. In fact, I’m almost looking forward more to learning more about the author than I am in reading about what she saw, since it takes a special kind of person to be willing to do this kind of unimaginably risky undercover work.

Ash by Malinda Lo

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Ash Cover
cover description: A black and white image of a girl in a white dress laying in a fetal position in tall grass.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love–and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.”

why I’m excited: To call Ash, a lesbian Cinderella retelling, ahead of its time for YA literature would be an understatement. I first read it when the first edition was released 10 years ago, when I was a baby gay and years before I came out of the closet. It’s not just its queerness that matters to me, though–it’s also a genuinely gripping and unusual fantasy novel, especially for a Cinderella retelling. I bought the 10th anniversary edition for my Kindle. I can’t wait to revisit it.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel Cover
cover description: Two girls’ faces are opposite to each other on the cover, one at the top of the cover and one on the bottom. The background is pink stripes.

the premise: From Goodreads:

“High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.”

why I’m excited: Unlike Ash, I’ve never read this lesbian YA novel, even though it came out back in 2014. This premise is my favorite out of all the books I’m featuring this week. A lesbian romance that’s also about learning to loosen up, make friends, and find your faith in humanity? Oh, hell yes. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. In fact, I think I’m going to start reading it right away. Bye, y’all.


What’s in your bookbag this week? Do you have any exciting weekend reading plans? Let me know in the comments, and feel free to link to your own book reviews and blog posts!