The Chai Factor Cover
Synopsis from the Creator:

Amira Khan has no plans to break her no-dating rule.

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family’s house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall.

As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn’t get her, or her family’s culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

Review: The Chai Factor, by Farah Heron

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 10, 2019 9:45:00 AM / by Amy

The Chai Factor is a beautiful contemporary romance with a message. It’s fun but not fluffy, engaging but not light. Amira and Duncan’s story isn’t unseen in romance - a girl from a traditional family falls for a guy outside of her culture - but Heron tells it in such a way that’s it’s new and refreshing.

This book gripped me and walked me along with its story, which deals with Amira trying to finish her graduate degree back at home at the same time a barbershop quartet has decided to move in. And of course, someone in the ensemble is a handsome stranger Amira met only hours beforehand. Duncan is a sweetie, a beta with his own internalized hangups, and not the guy Amira should like. They butt heads throughout the first half of the novel to the point you’ll be like “JUST KISS ALREADY.” The slow burn romance Heron writes is so good, and you won’t mind the build up at all.

The book isn’t all about Amira though. It’s also about her friend Reena, whose family life sucks. It’s about Sameer, Amira’s friend and a member of the barbershop quartet who isn’t out to his family. And it’s about Amira’s family itself, whose matriarch has very traditional viewpoints that are juxtaposed against Amira and her sister’s liberal ones. And it’s these side stories along with Amira’s that make this book so so good.

Many of the points in the book are particularly relevant today, and Heron deftly addresses things that I usually only see in contemporary YA novels done right. But one thing Heron nails is Amira’s divide between her culture and her home. Amira is Indian-Canadian - she lives in a traditional Muslim Indian household but has been raised in Toronto. Though she still identifies strongly with her family’s culture, it’s hard to adhere to all of it. It is an experience that many kids of immigrants feel. You’re never truly all in one bucket, which frustrates both sides. Amira isn’t a good Indian girl because she isn’t actively looking for a suitable Indian husband, Sameer isn’t a good Indian boy because he’s gay. And Amira isn’t “white” enough to avoid inane questions like “Where are you from?” and “If you’re Muslim, where’s your hijab?” Amira even internalizes a lot of this, which she explores throughout the book. Amira denies her attraction to Duncan because he isn’t that “good Indian boy” her grandmother wants for her, and she stays silent when people are interested in reporting on her experience at the Canada/U.S. border. It weirdly takes a barbershop quartet, her friends, and family for her to break out of her shell and start thinking critically of how she closes herself off. By the end, Amira realizes that the best way to fight hate is with love - hate from Canadians, hate from her Indian community, and hate from herself.

If you’re ready for a book with some difficult themes but a great love story, read this immediately. Also make sure you have some snacks and drinks nearby because, wow, did I drink a lot of chai while reading it.


Content Warnings: Xenophobia/Islamophobia, racial profiling, public and work harassment, academic anxiety, gaslighting, sexism, intercommunity racism and homophobia, eating disorder

Topics: review