It’s been almost a year since Rana’s best friend died, inexplicably going too fast in a car that he typically drove over-cautiously. Louie was smart, sensitive and accepting of Rana’s struggles as a closeted Iranian American Muslim lesbian with a difficult home life. Her dad works back in the Middle East while his family stays safely in the San Fernando Valley, coming to visit his wife and kids for only a month out of every year. Her younger brother Babak gets to do whatever he wants while Rana is told what to wear, what to eat and what to do by her immaculately groomed, perpetually neurotic mother.
In her grief, Rana has quit the basketball team and started joylessly hooking up with Louie’s twin brother Tony. When she learns that a major rap battle that Louie had dreamed of taking part in is coming back to the area, she decides that she’s going to honor his memory by competing. Trouble is, public speaking terrifies her. In fact, the most rapping she’s ever done is while listening to Tupac while hanging out with Louie.
Her other best friend Naz encourages her not only to practice, but to use her own poems instead of just channeling the fragments of Louie’s writing that are in her possession. Rana’s late grandfather had instilled a love of poetry in her, but Rana is too unsure of her own talent to take that step. If she’s going to overcome her fear of speaking up tho, why not take the full leap and expose her deepest feelings to the world?
Complicating matters is her growing bond with Yasaman, a half-Persian schoolmate who adores visual art and is eager to share that love with her. Rana is pretty sure that bubbly, red-headed Yasaman is interested in her romantically, but she’s too caught up in her own head to know what to do about the possibility of her first relationship with another girl. Will Rana be able to honor both her own feelings and the memory of her late best friend as her turbulent high school days draw to a close?
Set in 1996, this young adult novel is a terrific throwback to the heyday of Tupac and the rise of the Wu Tang Clan. Shideh Etaat clearly knows her stuff as she has her characters wax eloquent about the influence and importance of rap and hip hop. This is actually the first book that’s ever gotten me to fully appreciate the amount of work that goes into writing and performing rap (and by extension spoken word poetry) that’s meaningfully from the heart and soul.
I also really appreciated the diversity in this novel and how it emphasizes the fact that Muslim girls aren’t uniformly religious or docile. Rana reminds me in so many ways of myself and dozens of other Muslim girls I knew back in the 90s, straight or otherwise. Naz is an absolute delight, a hijab-wearing, mosque-going teenager of Afghani descent, who loves to drink and get down, if not all the way dirty, with hot dudes.
The only thing that gave me pause about this book is how mature it is, both emotionally and sexually. It continues to irritate me how modern marketing insists on categorizing books by the age of their protagonists. Rana might be a teenager, but she’s in a lot of R-rated situations that are way more explicit than even some of the grownup romances I’ve read. This is definitely a book for readers who are comfortable with sex and casual drug use, no matter what age.
Rana Joon And The One And Only Now by Shideh Etaat was published July 25 2023 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including