While I read across genres in the Young Adult section, I have a soft spot in my heart for the rom-com. Though this genre might come across as light and fluffy, in actuality the form is able to take on topics as varied as mental health, identity, immigration, racism, and grief, to name only a few. Sure there’s romance, escapism, and happy endings, but what kept me picking up one YA rom-com after another in the last month was the window into the lives of each protagonist. More than ever I’m seeing #ownvoices authors tell stories that reflect their particular experience with the characters that they hadn’t seen in novels as young people. In turn I get a glimpse into a life different than my own and subsequently widen my world view. Here’s a collection of some of my recent reads!
Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan
The debut novel from this Bangladeshi American author (and the first novel I’ve read by a Bangladeshi American) takes the fake dating trope and turns it into a thoughtful exploration of expectations across cultures. Karina Ahmed is a high school junior buckling under the weight of Bangladeshi parental expectations and coping with anxiety largely on her own. They want her to be a doctor. She secretly longs to be an English teacher. When her parents take a month-long trip back to Bangladesh, leaving Karina and her younger brother in the care of their grandmother, Karina is looking forward to a much needed break. But her quiet month is almost immediately disrupted when, through a series of circumstances, she is roped into pretending to be Ace Clyde’s girlfriend, Midland High School’s bad boy. As the two slowly get to know, appreciate, and, of course, fall for each other, they also encourage and call out each other’s strengths. Bhuiyan movingly portrays the complex experience of a Bangladeshi American female teen, trying to meet the expectations of her more traditional parents, navigate managing her anxiety, dealing with the double standard of her gender within her culture, and learning to stand in her own power.