Arsalan has learned everything he knows from Nana, his 100-year-old great-grandfather. This includes the fact that when Nana dies, Arsalan will be completely alone in the world, except for his estranged and abusive father. So he turns to Beenish, the step-daughter of a prominent matchmaker, to find him a future life partner. Beenish’s request in return? That Arsalan help her ruin her older sister’s wedding with a spectacular dance she’s been forbidden to perform.
Despite knowing as little about dancing as he does about girls, Arsalan wades into Beenish’s chaotic world to discover friends and family he never expected. And though Arsalan’s old-school manners and Beenish’s take-no-prisoners attitude clash every minute, they find themselves getting closer and closer—literally. All that’s left to realize is that the thing they both really want is each other, if only they can get in step.
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Refreshing. Entertaining. Humorous. More of a coming-of-age than a romance, this contemporary fiction manages to hold one’s attention through emotional facets amidst the fun of a desi wedding and the distinctive, strong personalities of desi characters. Thank you to Little, Brown for the opportunity to read this early!
Sway With Me is a coming-of-age YA romantic comedy featuring Muslim Pakistani-American characters.
Having spent all his life like an old soul submerged in books and distanced from a world that fellow teenagers easily fit into, Arsalan is worried about the loneliness that will soon cloud over him after his aged great-grandfather will inevitably leave. When his abusive alcoholic father is expected to enter his peaceful abode, the traditional and shy Arsalan opens up to the idea of an arranged marriage. Now all he wants is a matchmaker.
Luckily, Beenish’s stepmother is one and hopefully Beenish has thereby caught on a few ways to set up a match. So a deal is made: she will help him find a future life partner and he, in turn, will perform a dance with her. But Arsalan isn’t much of a dancer and Beenish isn’t truthful about the risk of performing at her older sister’s wedding.
With a plot that is both refreshing and entertaining, the characters are allowed a great canvas to paint themselves against. With Arsalan’s studious personality often projecting him as an old-fashioned and quiet guy who turns to facts and rationality at every turn, he might take some time to sneak into the readers’ hearts but once he does, the kind boy who has been through a lot will make a place for himself. Beenish as a love interest stands out with her intensely opinionated and fiercely rebellious personality that complements Arsalan through a subtle grumpy x sunshine romance trope. While the hilarious and heartwarming banter keeps the reader excitedly engaged, the romantic strings aren’t played with great intensity—not necessarily a critique if one prefers to gravitate more towards the endearing and touching individual story lines than the romance.
It’s the simple yet effective writing that establishes every side character with as much essence as Arsalan and Beenish. And it’s the same writing that turns this prose into an honest, philosophical, and religiously responsive narration. Unfiltered, unconventional thoughts are well presented through a diverging and diverse lens as tradition and culture are contemplated. The themes of family and friendship are smoothly integrated in a story where community and individualism is both appreciated and questioned.
Despite some aspects remaining under-explored, from the dance to certain familial relationships, Sway With Me does make one ponder over who matters the most to us, the timelessness of elderly love, being a misfit in a generation that runs on references, and the essence of finding someone in life who despite being different feels like home.
my rating ↣ ★★★★☆
Syed M. Masood
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.
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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This post is written for a promotional blog tour hosted by TBR & Beyond Book Tours but everything stated in the post is solely my opinion and recommendation, and the giveaway is in no way sponsored by me. Also, I’m in no place to give detailed comments on the representation of the religion or the belief of characters in this book so please pay heed to the ownvoices reviews for this visibility/representation above mine.