A pastel pink cover decorated in magenta roses and swirly black calligraphy greets me in the bookstore. Very pink. I pick up the novel, The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian, and skim the first few pages. They are stuffed with imagery of a pink-themed sweet sixteen party, from fuchsia formalwear to cerise hors d’oeuvres. Even pinker. Definitely not how I expect a young-adult novel about an Iranian-American teenager’s identity crisis to begin. As I continue reading, however, the shades of pink subside to reveal an equally vibrant story perfect for anyone craving a fun, thought provoking read this August.
The real strength of the novel lies in its characters, who are relatable, realistic, and diverse.
The Authentics, Nazemian’s first novel, follows fifteen-year-old Daria Esfandyar, who has always defined herself through her Iranian culture and her family. However, a school assignment uncovers a startling truth about her heritage. This revelation propels her on a path to discover who she is, resulting in a new romance, reevaluated friendships, and lots of family drama along the way. Told through Daria’s eyes, this elegant coming-of-age narrative explores themes of contrasting cultures, family, identity, and what it means to be authentic.
The real strength of the novel lies in its characters, who are relatable, realistic, and diverse. There are characters from different ethnicities, biracial characters, LGBTQ characters, all with their own motives and internal struggles. What’s more is that their identities are not awkwardly stapled to their names as an afterthought, and are instead woven into their every action and word. Daria, for instance, is fundamentally Iranian, referencing her culture naturally throughout the book and letting it motivate many of her decisions. In fact, it reminded me slightly of how I, a Hmong-American, interact with the world around me.
As the novel progresses, more and more secrets are discovered, and Daria must face her own narcissism, insecurities, and hypercriticism in order to salvage her relationships. However, with everything that’s happened and everything that’s changed, Daria is unsure if she even wants to. After all, what if the foundation of a relationship turned out to be a complete lie?
With each chapter, Nazemian forces you to introspect through his characters, to consider how you define yourself and how you present yourself to those around you. While the slower pacing and slightly winding plot might deter readers looking for a focused YA adventure, they allow you to truly delve into each moment of the story. Indeed as I finish the final pages I’m having a hard time believing it’s a piece of fiction.
In sum, if you like learning about different cultures, reading about relatable characters, or simply like the color pink, you’ll definitely enjoy The Authentics.
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