The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim

What a surprising delight of a YA romance novel!

Before I go into the pros and cons of this book specifically, I do want to note how so many contemporary Muslim romance writers — particularly those with cultural backgrounds in former British colonies — lean towards Jane Austen as a watchword. My favorite of these so far is Moni Mohsin, whose novel Duty Free was by far best in class when it comes to this kind of thing. Interestingly, the plots themselves tend to differ vastly from Ms Austen’s own classic canon, but the circumstances, evoking a respectability that can often feel alien to modern non-Muslims, are very much what a lot of these writers and their readers are comfortable living with.

What’s most interesting to me in these works is how the authors balance seemingly old-fashioned manners with the realities of the real world. In The Love Match, our heroine Zahra Khan is poor, and has to defer her college admission until she can actually save up the cash to go. One of her best friends Dani is Pakistani American, Muslim and a lesbian with a girlfriend, Ximena. These touches ensure that the proceedings don’t exist in a rarefied bubble far removed from the real world. I especially appreciated the way Dani’s conflicts were handled, without judgment and with love leading the way.

As to the main story! Zahra has just graduated high school and is enviously watching her best friends get ready for college. Since the death of her father, her family has been struggling to make ends meet, and so she’s been saving every penny she can from working in a tea shop in Paterson, New Jersey (also the setting of my beloved Andy Carpenter novels by David Rosenfelt) to finance community college. She’s smart enough to have earned a scholarship to Columbia, but it only applies if she’s enrolled full-time, and her family needs her to help pay the bills with a large portion of her part-time wages.

But then her mother comes up with a brilliant plan that will solve everyone’s problems: matchmake Zahra with Harun Emon, the son of rich local Bangladeshi restaurateurs. Never mind that Zahra is only 18 and has always been too busy to have a boyfriend. Despite their impoverished circumstances, the Khans come from a proud noble lineage, and marrying into their family will provide the Emons with much-needed social cachet.

Trouble is, both Zahra and Harun hate the idea. Once they discover they’re on the same page about it, they decide to do everything they can to persuade their parents that their marriage would be a match made in hell. This leaves Harun free to focus on his schoolwork — he’s going to Columbia, which Zahra can’t help but envy — while Zahra can see if her attraction to the new dishwasher at work turns into something long-lasting.

Alas that the course of young love, or young pretend hate, never will run smooth. Even more critically than deciding on which boy to make out with, Zahra finds herself torn between following her dreams and disappointing her family, or making her mother happy and herself miserable in the process. Will she be able to navigate a path that brings her happiness, or at least something close to it?

It’s a romance, so the answer is yes, but y’all, I cried buckets in the process. Priyanka Taslim pulls out twists that would make a natok-writer gasp with envy (disclaimer: I’ve read so many crime novels that I could see many of them coming. They were still immensely satisfying to read tho.) She also very sensitively explores what it means to be a young Bangladeshi American girl who cares deeply about family. There were parts that I felt could have used a little more writing — the scene at the waterfall with Nayim felt underwritten and I have no idea why the part between Zahra talking to Harun on the bridge and later at college happened off the page — but it was overall a delightful read.

Another thing I really admired was the effortless incorporation of Bengali (Sylheti?) language into the text. I love when authors make it clear what the non-English language they use means without explicitly translating the words. So well done.

The Love Match by Priyanka Taslim was published January 3 2023 by Salaam Reads and is available from all good booksellers, including

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