Published: 2 January 2018
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary
Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.
Julian asks if Taliah if she will drop everything and go with him to his hometown of Oak Falls, Indiana, to meet his father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. Taliah, torn between betraying her mother’s trust and meeting the family she has never known, goes.
With her best friend Harlow by her side, Taliah embarks on a three-day journey to find out everything about her ‘father’ and her family. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.
Rating: 3 Stars
As Taliah’s alleged father is a famous indie rock star, I expected there to be a lot of musical references and what I did find in the text was great. The names of different bands and musical performances, from familiar musical Hamilton to obscure (to me) bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, had me looking up videos or songs on YouTube and Spotify to get a deeper sense of how the scene might be developing.
The first thing artist mentioned, and the reasons I started to like Taliah’s best friend Harlow, was Amanda Palmer. While baking pistachio cupcakes in Taliah’s kitchen, Harlow is listening to The Dresden Dolls and Taliah mentions how Harlow was “in a phase where she was both nursing a major crush on Amanda Palmer and wanting to be Amanda Palmer”. As a fan of both her Dresden Dolls days and individual albums, I was very happy with the A.P. reference.
Via musical taste variances and more contrasting elements, the differences between Julian Oliver and Taliah Abdallat’s lives/generations are examined as both evidence/non-evidence of their familial relationship. Besides Julian being critical of musicals, there is also some early contention between him and Harlow about politically correct language and current events. While we see a more modern Harlow defending her position against, as she calls him, “prototypical middle-aged white dude” Julian, Taliah is having a mental debate with herself about where she stands on the subject of micro-aggression at large and in regards to Julian. Does she have things figured out? When will she be able to express the things she’s feeling? What is the right way?
Here We Are Now is not just the story of Taliah trying to connect with an absent father. It is also the story of her mother, Lena, and her immigrant experience. In the first perspective we have of Lena’s, she has recently arrived in the U.S. to study medicine, though there’s already doubt about whether she will complete that study. She finds herself missing Jordan more than expected, even once her classes begin. There are seemingly minute moments (the changing color of leaves) and even bigger events that, once read, reveal more depth to her.
There’s her homesickness and her desire to fit in; her Muslim upbringing at conflict with who she is now (something Taliah also comments on, though she doesn’t understand it). It is that last point that unfolds and reveals her character more than anything. There are several paragraphs that tell about her experience in Jordan vs the U.S. wearing a hijab, something she quickly shed upon arriving due to her desire to blend in and become American. Her life thereafter is influenced strongly by this choice: her writing, her art, her friends and the people she hosts in her home.
Lena’s story is just as vital to the book as anything that happens between the current day characters and, at times, I found it more involved and interesting. It offered insight into the decisions she made then and now, the choices that affected the path she and her daughter were on well before the book started. The strange thing I found about the flashbacks concerning were that these chapters were being told as Julian’s reminiscences to Taliah and Harlow, but actually written down they were told from Lena’s perspective. The reader is getting far more information about Lena and her past than Taliah is hearing the story. Realizing that made it a bit awkward, knowing that Taliah was not really hearing the same information that I, as the reader, was getting.
There are two things that I did not like much in the course of the book. The first thing is that Harlow isn’t present for the majority of the book, so the description of her in the synopsis is a bit misleading. Then there’s Toby, a neighbor of Julian’s parents, whose whole presence felt unnecessary. He was two dimensional and the “relationship” that develops between him and Taliah felt more forced than any other in recent memory. Whatever he was meant to do or be in this narrative, I don’t think it came across as well as the author might have intended. If his portrayal is indeed as intended, I think it a rather poor choice and one that adds useless padding to the story.
There are themes of forgiveness, the search for personal identity, and familial connections throughout Here We Are Now. Not everything is smoothed over, but the best takeaway, perhaps, is that some endings aren’t just that, but rather beginnings as well.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.