Watching brown women fall in love in print

A roundup of romance novels by and for South Asian girls

Three recommendations for Desis looking for cliché reads.
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There was a long period following high school when I didn’t read fiction for pleasure. University made reading seem like a chore while giving me less time to do it. At the same time, TV and film were going through a renaissance of representation for women of colour.
 
Recently, it dawned on me recently I’ve been steering clear of novels because of how increasingly difficult it’s become to see myself in them. 
 
When I was younger, it didn’t matter to me that the protagonists of most popular romance novels were white women. However, as I grew older and experienced more culturally and racially specific obstacles to love and sex, it became harder to relate to those novels—until recently.
 
It can be quite a feat to find romance novels with protagonists that look like you, no matter what you look like. Once you do, it’s empowering, joyful, and so damn refreshing. 
 

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar 

A queer Desi girl’s dream trope, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating follows two Muslim teenagers who enter a fake relationship. Hani, an outgoing girl from a socially progressive family, wants her friends to accept her bisexuality. Meanwhile, Ishu, a Type-A overachiever with traditionalist parents, wants to gain popularity points, and be elected “Head Girl” at her high school.
 
Hani and Ishu’s relationship, which slowly becomes more than pretend throughout the novel, is a testament to how brown girls live in an impossible paradox: they must choose between pleasing non-Desi folks while staying true to the values and expectations of their communities. 
 
Jaigirdar, a Bangladeshi woman like myself, does an incredible job mixing lighthearted teen fiction into a more serious examination of experiencing Islamophobia as a first-generation immigrant.  
 

The Chai Factor by Farah Heron 

Following the budding relationship between Amira Khan, an engineer, and Duncan Gallahad, a sort-of musician and part-time parent, The Chai Factor is a heartwarming and uniquely Canadian story. With rich and nostalgic descriptions of traditional Indian food throughout, the novel follows Amira on her journey back to Toronto to complete her grad school thesis and as she falls head-over-heels for a member of the barbershop quartet renting out her grandma’s basement. 
 
The charm of Heron’s debut novel is that it’s unapologetically cliché. From its use of the fake dating trope to turning white knight syndrome on its head, reading Heron’s contemporary story is absolutely vindicating for brown girls who’ve never seen themselves in a cheesy romance novel.
 
The Chai Factor is also full to the brim with references to Toronto as well as a university in Kingston that sounds a lot like Queen’s. It’s a fascinating and enjoyable read that sometimes gets pretty steamy—wink, wink. 
 

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

 
A spin-off of The Chai Factor, Accidentally Engaged follows Amira’s best friend, Reena Manji, who ends up falling hard for a man her parents originally tried to set her up with. Nadim, the bachelor in question, is impossibly smooth with a British accent to top it off. 
 
While The Chai Factor held serious space for discussions of Islamophobia and white saviorism, Accidentally Engaged holds less space for speaking to white audiences and more for brown women looking to get lost in an impossibly cute story. 
 
Readers will experience Reena having her sourdough starters pour into the next apartment, fake an engagement in order to win a cooking scholarship, and catch her mom attending a secret poker tournament. Well-written, way too on-the-nose, and complete with original recipes, Accidentally Engaged is the perfect quick read.
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