CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 39. . . .June 16, 2017
Follow Your Heart. (Real Love).
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2017.
157 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $14.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4594-1214-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-1216-3 (epub).
Grades 7-10 /Ages 12-15.
Review by Amy Westbury.
When did it start? When did I start pouring out all my feelings into my blog, “Confessions of a Sri Lankan Girl”? As a Tamil teen, I needed an outlet for my feelings about the obedience my culture and my family demanded. Doing what my parents wanted seemed easier when I was younger. I rarely went out with friends. Instead, book girl that I am, I focused on keeping an A+ average at school. Going with my parents to whatever events they wanted took up the rest of my time. But as they years passed, I started feeling a tightness in my chest every time I heard my parents say to me, “Tamil girls don’t do that”. They said it as if that was enough for me to drop the idea of anything I wanted for myself. But it wasn’t enough anymore. More and more, I watched my few friends go on to live a life of their choosing. I watched them move on without me. I felt stuck and I was starting to hate it.
As part of the new “Real Love” series featuring contemporary and diverse romances, Follow Your Heart offers a mix of stereotypical teen angst and YA relationships set amongst the Tamil Canadian culture. With the book’s attractive cover and much needed diversity in storytelling, teen readers will undoubtedly connect with the issues of struggling to meet adult expectations and the often conflicting perspectives kids and parents have on the paths to take beyond high school.
With an effective and intriguing opening, Follow Your Heart quickly introduces readers to the narrator and main character, Nisha. Despite disagreeing with some of the confines of her culture, she has always been a good Tamil daughter. To appease her family, Nisha spends most of her time focussed on academics and avoids the dramatic complexities of high school friendships and dating. Her parents’ hopes for her are straightforward and direct: become a doctor or an engineer with absolutely no social or romantic distractions. Unfortunately, Nisha’s passions fall well outside these expectations. She has a natural talent for and deep desire to write. As she explores her artistic aptitude in a creative writing class at school, she is also forced to face her feelings for long time crush, and non-Tamil boy, Todd.
Author Tasha Nathan does a superb job getting readers inside Nisha’s mind. Through her blog, “Confessions of a Sri-Lankan Girl”, Nisha’s growing suffocation from her overbearing parents and double-standard culture is brilliantly portrayed. Through the effective device of Nisha’s online blog, readers quickly get a sense of her everyday life and grow to be empathetic towards her growing angst. It is in these blog entries that the story really shines. Nisha’s voice as both a Tamil-Canadian and a young women struggling with the stress of post-secondary decisions is a necessary and timely one for teens to encounter.
Touted as a teen romance novel, it’s the relationship between Nisha and Todd that is the only troubling aspect of the novel. Full of stereotypical YA tropes (friends to lovers, star-crossed couples, insta-love), the romance is poorly developed and front-loaded with burgeoning fears Nisha carries due to her parents’ strict expectations that are too neatly resolved at the end of the novel. It would have been interesting to see this inter-racial aspect of Nisha and Todd’s relationship explored more intimately. Allowing readers to see Nisha’s parents actually meet Todd and a more accurate struggle to accept the relationship may have been a more interesting route to take, especially considering how much time was spent in the beginning of the novel discussing the demonization of Tamil women for dating outside their own culture.
Aimed at a teen audience but written at a middle-school reading level, this hi-lo fiction book is sure to be popular with those looking for a short contemporary romance read. Although some readers may be put-off by the one-note romance and the all-too-easy change in parental perspective, Follow Your Heart is to be applauded for presenting an authentic Tamil Canadian voice in young adult fiction. This diversity, only starting to be seen in contemporary teen novels, is a much-needed story that belongs on our bookshelves.
Amy Westbury is a teacher-librarian at Bruce Trail Public School in Milton, ON.
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