A story with so much heart and a truth that resonates... More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood, an #ownvoices story on tour with @HearOurVoicesBT (Review)

Welcome to my tour stop! Read my review of this new contemporary YA below...

More Than Just a Pretty Face
By Syed M. Masood
YA Contemporary
Hardcover & ebook, 352 Pages
August 4, 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


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.

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My Review

MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE is an #ownvoices story about a boy who is trying to figure out his place among his peers, as well dealing with his parents' and cultural expectations. It's a story well balanced between everyday teen life (school, girls, etc.) and a search for truth, forgiveness and understanding. Readers will fall in love with these characters and find that they can't help the messages that will resonate in their hearts long after the last page is read.

There is a lightness and cuteness to this story, plus all the sarcasm, humor, and good food (oh my gosh, the food!), but this story is so much more than it's cute cover and title would have you believe. It's a story about a boy who has no interest in excelling academically or living up to the expectations of others. A boy who has his own dreams and talents, even if they aren't valued as important by others. And a boy who is more than his good looks (thus the title). During the course of this book he comes into his own and the journey is well worth experiencing with him. It's also a bit of a story about a girl who, in her rebellion, makes a terrible mistake that is then publicized and she pays for it with no relief or hope for a happy future.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about this book at the beginning. The first page was Danyal checking out one of this friends and making innuendo in his head about her, and dropping an f-word (not my cup of tea). However, I kept reading and couldn't help loving Danyal with his mix of confidence, self-depreciation, humor, and sense of what is right. Really, he's just a good guy in a very genuine way and someone I think all of us can relate to. He could be more successful if he cared to be, but his interests don't lie there. Instead they lie in his family, his friends and in cooking. He's mostly skating through life until two things happen: he meets Bisma and he is selected to compete in an academic contest. 

I loved Bisma and I loved her and Danyal together. I also loved the character development, but also how Bisma and Danyal balanced each other—they don't have the same dreams and goals, but they do have the same respect for and acceptance of each other. Things take Danyal a bit of time to figure out though, so he may never figure that out. I also appreciated that the author has a very genuine way of writing, including his characters, and he didn't let anything come too easily or everything to be tied in a nice little bow at the end. There was heartache, work, and effort, a well as some people to win over.

I really loved all the messages in this story. They were so poignant for life now. The story points out that you can be be too radical one way or the other, about balancing living life and being happy amid the terrible things that still happen in the world. It points out that heroes aren't perfect and most of them write our histories, but how important it is to learn all sides and to tell all sides today. It talks about a loving God, forgiveness, and the importance of fighting for love. There were a few particular passages that were wonderful pieces of wisdom, such as: 

"We come to the New World and forget, I think, that the Old World still has things to teach us." 
"Our humanity is dependent upon our recognition of their humanity. Either we're all human, or none of us are."

I also just have to mention this one scene... Danyal walks into a library for the first time maybe ever and says: "Let me get this straight, " I said. "You're like a Netflix for books?" That whole scene made me laugh hysterically. Bravo to the author for something so hilarious and something I could see someone who is very unfamiliar with a library, but very familiar with technology might say. Plus it just shows how well the author did in making this entertaining, with some lightness to the story, while also weaving in some tough topics that made me think (as well as some that made me quite angry). And I never felt like I was being preached to, especially since even when an idea was being explored, there were opposing sides and questions posed as well.

Really, my only complaints would be the language (consistent use of f-words and s-words, and blatant/crude comments) and some of the innuendo or references used. They made it a book that I would recommend for older teens and those who don't mind the content.

In the end, was it what I wished for? Honestly, I was expecting a cute read and instead got this really well written, genuine, sweet romance with lots of depth that just about blew me away. A story that tugged on my heart and pulled on my emotions. Definitely recommended to YA contemporary fans.

Content: Swearing (including the f-word and s-word), innuendo, crude references, verbal abuse.
Source: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley, which did not require a positive review. All opinions are my own.

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.

Photo Credit: Samantha May Photography

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