Nada Syed is stuck. On the cusp of thirty, she’s still living at home with her brothers and parents in the Golden Crescent neighbourhood of Toronto, resolutely ignoring her mother’s unsubtle pleas to get married already. While Nada has a good job as an engineer, it’s a far cry from realizing her start-up dreams for her tech baby, Ask Apa, the app that launched with a whimper instead of a bang because of a double-crossing business partner. Nothing in her life has turned out the way it was supposed to, and Nada feels like a failure. Something needs to change, but the past is holding on too tightly to let her move forward.
Nada’s best friend Haleema is determined to pry her from her shell…and what better place than at the giant annual Muslim conference held downtown, where Nada can finally meet Haleema’s fiancé, Zayn. And did Haleema mention Zayn’s brother Baz will be there?
What Haleema doesn’t know is that Nada and Baz have a past—some of it good, some of it bad and all of it secret. At the conference, that past all comes hurtling at Nada, bringing new complications and a moment of reckoning. Can Nada truly say goodbye to once was or should she hold tight to her dreams and find their new beginnings?
I love this book, and I love this author. I cannot stop talking about this book to people who catch me reading it; and even if they didn’t catch me, I will start talking about it and say, “You really need to read Uzma’s books. They are fantastic.” I have adored Ms. Jalaluddin’s books from the get-go: Ayesha at Last, the book that was inspired by Pride & Prejudice, and her sophomore hit, Hana Khan Carries On, that was gritty as well as funny, taking on the classic, You’ve Got Mail. This one takes on my favorite of the Austen books, Persuasion. Mainly because I totally relate to being hung up on The Guy even after you think every one of your chances have passed because you were dealing with family drama at the time or you were too scared…or just bad advice–and well, I love a good pining book. This was an excellent pining book.
But it was much more than a pining-yearning-longing book–and I mean, didn’t we all get tired of Wuthering Heights and that amount of pining and carrying on? Exactly. There needs to be a balance; and we are given a very relatable heroine who has been dealt a number of hard blows and now feels stuck in her life, unable to figure out where to go now. The heroine, Nada, is a good South Asian Muslim woman…and part of that is living with her parents as is expected of the cultural norms, even as she’s approaching thirty. And also putting up with her mother’s designs to set her up with any man with a pulse (so long as he’s Muslim) so she’ll finally get married and have kids. But Nada wants more for herself–a fact she also struggles with in a world where the men prefer the women to stay home and take care of the house but she wants to have something wholly her own. (This may sound a little 1950s flashback, but it’s not, because I read a lot of Amish romance–which has a similar struggle many times; and well, I used to be a Southern Baptist before all the therapy–so really, this is still a pretty modern issue. How does one balance one’s faith and societal norms with the longings in one’s heart?)
stalking–um, researching for more information about
Ms. Jalaluddin, I saw her FAQ about why she became a writer. It was so she
could see more representation of her lived experience as a South Asian Muslim
woman in story form, something she did not have when she first started reading.
Of course, we know reading stories is one of the best ways to develop empathy
for other people, especially those not like us (or actually, who we
THINK are not like us.) What I’ve discovered–and I imagine most people also
have–is that other people are like us and were the whole time. I
am curious about how other people live, especially those who live in other
countries or cultures or faiths–these are all interesting to me. What I enjoyed
most is how feminist this book felt, in how Nada was portrayed–and how this
story showed the many ways one can be a feminist.
Okay, enough about that–I’m sure you are more curious about the writing, the story, the characters. The writing was superb. You will not be surprised to note that our intrepid author is also an English Ed teacher. She is funny and sarcastic but also emotional and handles scenes with sensitivity. There was lots of smoldering tension for a couple who lives in a culture where unrelated men and women do not touch each other or even spend alone time together, and there was so much romantic sweetness and respect that can sometimes feel missing in more secular stories. I think of her heroes, Baz is my favorite. (Granted I might have said that about each of the heroes in the subsequent reviews…but yes, definitely it’s Baz.) He’s so serious and sweet, but also flirty and passionate. Nada is smart and loving–and I think easy to relate to as a woman who is trying to break free of some of the norms her parents have not outgrown (as is the problem with every parent-child generation, yes?) while still honoring her parents and her faith and herself. Oh, and the surprises she gave me at every turn! I would be like, “What is happening? I did not expect that! OMG, how is she ever going to tell her parents!?” like at the end of every other chapter. Or it’d be, “OMG, these two are never getting together. How can they overcome this? They can’t. They just can’t.”
I read this book so fast–and I barely was able to put it down. I lingered over lunch with it; I stayed up hours past my bedtime reading it…once I started, it was just like a Netflix series that I pushed PLAY and didn’t stop until the story ended. (In fact, these books should totally be Netflix series…we have a precedent of Never Have I Ever and Bridgerton–this story could carry a series.) And once I finished, I logged on here to write up the review. I mean, the book may be called Much Ado About Nada–but this story is actually everything. Come for the belly laughs and family shenanigans, stay for the smoldering romance. Ms. Austen would be proud.