When her estranged father decides to remarry and invites her to the wedding in India, Mehar Rabbani sees it as her chance to mend family ties. But can this American teenager reconnect with the Indian family she hasn’t seen in ages? To further complicate matters, her dad is Indian royalty and a celebrity. Can she fit into his world and culture that are so different from her own? Can she pretend to like her soon-to-be stepmom, the socialite Naz, and her manipulative daughter, Aleena? What’s the deal with them anyway?
On the face of it, Sabina Khan’s new book What a Desi Girl Wants sounds like a South Asian version of the Amanda Bynes–Colin Firth movie What a Girl Wants – with a dash of The Princess Diaries – but this is a far better story.
Khan steers clear of stereotypes and predictable plot resolutions: the world is not black and white, and the people who inhabit it are far more complex than binary divisions allow for. The novel’s highlight is its refreshing depiction of young same-sex love. Mehar’s bisexuality does not define her. It is simply who she is. There is no struggle for acceptance or hand-wringing about her sexual orientation.
However, this privilege is denied to her love interest, Sufiya, who has grown up in small-town India. For Sufiya, it must stay a secret from her family and her employers if she wants to have any peace and protect her family’s reputation.
The novel’s take on heterosexual relationships is equally fresh and mature. There are no villains trying to break up a fairy-tale couple – sometimes people drift apart, sometimes they want different things, and sometimes they make poor choices. And that is how we all learn and grow.
Khan does a terrific job of fleshing out the two worlds Mehar straddles – her simple life with her single mom in small-town America and the lavish lifestyle of Indian royalty in Agra. The writing is visual and crisp, especially in the delectable descriptions of Indian foods and feasts.
What a Desi Girl Wants is an entertaining and fun read. Candid and plucky, Mehar is easy to like and the reader is easily invested in her struggles. Khan packs in valuable lessons about life, love, and relationships, but the story never drags or gets preachy. A movie adaptation of this novel would sure be fun to watch.