Published: 8 August 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary
A fresh, funny, and thought-provoking debut YA novel about a fifteen-year-old Iranian-American named Daria, who is launched on a journey of self-discovery when she discovers she was adopted
Daria Esfandyar is Iranian-American and proud of her heritage, unlike some of the “Nose Jobs” in the clique led by her former best friend, Heidi Javadi. Daria and her friends call themselves the Authentics, because they pride themselves on always keeping it real.
But in the course of researching a school project, Daria learns something shocking about her past, which launches her on a journey of self-discovery. It seems everyone is keeping secrets. And it’s getting harder to know who she even is any longer.
With infighting among the Authentics, her mother planning an over-the-top sweet sixteen party, and a romance that should be totally off limits, Daria doesn’t have time for this identity crisis. With everything in her life changing—can she figure out how to stay true to herself?
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Caution: there is some discussion near the end of the book about difficulties during pregnancy, miscarriages, and a stillbirth.
Adoption is a story I’m interested in because my own family has experience with it and I’m curious in how it’s portrayed in fiction. Add to that that I cannot recall many books with Iranian-American main characters and I was curious to see what The Authentics held in terms of storytelling and character building.
Daria’s confusion and hurt at finding out about her history and identity because of a school project for which she submitted a DNA swab felt brutal in its honesty. It can be a difficult choice to come to, whether or not to tell a child they’ve been adopted, when to tell them, etc. There are so many facets to the decision that one book couldn’t possibly cover them all. Her hurt, and the things we learn about her mother Sheila, showed more in common than I think even Daria realized.
I liked Nazemian’s writing because the events of the book, even the parts I didn’t care for as much, felt like they kept a good pace. There were a few parts that were emotionally tense, whether it was Daria and her mother Shelia confronting each other about something or Daria having a revelation about herself or even a fight between friends, and each was written so that I could feel those things in the pit of my stomach. While it took me awhile to get through this because I was distracted by other books, I think it could easily be finished within a day or so if you have the time and energy.
What I didn’t like about the book comes from two parts: one being a character’s toxic judgement of a former friend and the other being a relationship the author wanted me to believe in, if only for some of the book.
Daria had some moments that made her difficult to like as a character. The event that leads to her identity crises is intense and I don’t doubt that she would have been overwhelmed, but it’s about her aside from the feelings expressed towards that revelation. She makes some comments about Heidi, a former friend, that come off as toxic because Heidi is now popular and has started dressing in American fashions. Daria’s attitude toward this doesn’t seem to come from Heidi treating her badly as a friend (which she does, but that’s irrelevant to my point), but from the fact that she’s changed. Her judgement against Heidi, for her clothes and popularity, was misplaced. Dislike her because she’s a bad person, not because how she likes to dress now.
The “romance” between Daria and Iglesias felt weird. There was of course the fact that he was the stepson of her biological mother and while they’re not related by blood, it still seemed a bit strange to get into some kind of relationship in that situation. It didn’t seem to bother them until the end of the book, though, when the parental figures all around found out and voiced their objections. Then it was…over? They’re friends and nothing more now? It was oddly abrupt and while I didn’t care for it to begin with, if it was a relationship that I was supposed to put any stock in, I think it failed because both parties seemed to change their minds about it on a dime.
One part I’m not entirely certain how to feel about is Daria’s genealogy presentation at the end of the book. It’s what started her on the process to figuring out the secret of the book and the conclusions she draws came out badly in the text. The quote “part of an Iranian, Mexican, Chinese, American, Muslim, Jewish, and agnostic family.” felt poorly worded because it felt to me like she was assuming parts of the cultures, for example, of her Chinese brother-in-law. We don’t see much of him in the book and Daria’s only met his parents once. Her biological father is Jewish, but her one interaction with him was without either of them knowing the other’s identity. Being a part of a family that is all these things is not the problem I have, more the wording chosen to express it.
I hope to read more from this author, as I think his writing is a style that would yield more interesting books. While there were some issues, overall I think the work was a good one, both as a fun read and one in which something could be learned, whether it was about empathy or discovery or finding your family, whoever makes up that group of people.