This book was magic and if I knew exactly why, maybe I could find more books that hit the same spot so perfectly. At the same time, I can identify the layers of why it works and why I love it so much. The real magic might be that it gave me reading back.*
One of the best things about Tell Me How You Really Feel is that the characters are lesbians and are Persian-Bengali American and Mexican American, but there is never a hint of homophobia or racism. The issue for the book is the pressure we put on ourselves. What these two have to overcome is really the concept of who they are. Sana is the perfect cheerleader destined to go to Princeton and become a surgeon. Rachel is a grumpy, fat filmmaker with designs on NYU film school. Somehow, they have to work around expectations to figure out what they want and what is important to them.
They are enemies because of a misunderstanding and forced to spend time together as part of Rachel’s film project. All of the time they spend together results in each girl realizing who she could be if she let go of some of her control. And they have to learn how to speak up for what matters most to them.
This is the book I wish had existed when I was a teenager. I really want to pretend that maybe I would have known I was queer earlier if I had this book, but that’s a lie. What I did need as a kid was a story where the overachievers got to do what made them happy while also being messes and in love. And really, as an adult, that’s also a good lesson.
I will note that the fact that Rachel is fat is possibly up for debate, but the description is there. Again, the fact that Rachel is fat is never an issue except in regards to Rachel’s perception of herself. During their first kiss, there’s a moment when Sana describes Rachel as “soft everywhere,” and that is the moment when Rachel realizes that she could be wanted for what she assumed made her unlovable. It is such an honest moment for a fat heroine. Later, during the sex scene, Sana regards Rachel with wonder: “She wanted it all. Big curling hair, soft rounded shoulders, wide thick hips.” When they finally kissed, that was the moment I decided to order a paper copy because I knew that feeling.
Anyway, the basic truth is that this might be my favorite book this year. There is so much heart in it whether we’re talking about the two main characters or their family and friends. The honesty of it and the kindness of it. Ugh, this book, I love it so much.
Also, poking the internet will reveal that Tell Me How You Really Feel is sort of an homage to Gilmore Girls and more specifically the ship of Rory Gilmore and Paris Geller. And I remain shocked that I did not know this was a ship until this week. Everyone who did not tell me about this ship is now my enemy.
*I have no idea why reading has been hard lately, but it has.
Content warnings: parental abandonment, divorce, parental alcoholism, car accident, cheerleading accident
Margrethe read this book as a loan from her library and has purchased a hardback copy to keep forever and photograph her dog reading.
This book is published by Macmillan, which is currently engaging in an embargo that severely impacts the ability of libraries to serve their patrons. Love in Panels would like to share this update (as of 10/3019) from the American Library Association that includes a link to their original letter.