TJ Powar is an incredibly brave young woman, and just as stubborn. Not many high schoolers, especially popular girls like TJ, would dare to challenge social norms by embracing their hairiness simply to make a point. Even fewer would stick with their decision when it starts to affect their precious social standing and sense of self.
After TJ and her cousin, Simran, end up as a cruel social media meme that mockingly contrasts Simran’s natural hairiness with TJ’s well-groomed, attractive visage, TJ begins to examine her obsession with depilation. She starts to wonder whether the physical pain, time, money, and stress involved in constantly fixing her appearance to fit societal standards of beauty are worth the trouble.
As the erstwhile “beautiful and hot” TJ lets hair reclaim her body everywhere – brows, upper lip, face, legs, arms, pits, belly – life as she knows it begins to fall apart. She is not only ridiculed at school but also shunned by close friends and dumped by her long-time boyfriend. But the hardest battle hairy TJ must fight is to respect herself. Does she truly believe that she can be hairy and still be worthy of respect?
Like TJ Powar, Jesmeen Kaur Deo is a bold young woman who raises many uncomfortable questions. What is beauty? Why does being beautiful matter? Do we only have value if society sees us as beautiful? Why are we forced to conform to unrealistic standards of physical appearance and taught to hate and punish the bodies we have? Who decides what is beautiful enough to be desired?
The novel is intelligently plotted, well-paced, and driven by relatable characters who have depth and nuance. But Deo’s greatest achievement is being able to critique some deeply entrenched societal norms without being preachy or making the book a snoozefest. In fact, her literary debut is immensely enjoyable. There’s high school drama, family drama, intense debating tournaments, and riveting soccer matches. The witty banter and crackling chemistry between TJ and her rival debater and love interest, Charlie, are well-written and add to the novel’s liveliness.
TJ Powar Has Something to Prove is invaluable fiction in a world that sorely needs to get over its obsession with appearances. Deo’s powerful message about self-love and self-acceptance is a must-read for everyone – the young and the old.