Title: Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Author: Aminah Mae Safi
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Copy: Digital ARC
Lulu Saad doesn’t need your advice, thank you very much. She’s got her three best friends and nothing can stop her from conquering the known world. Sure, for half a minute she thought she’d nearly drowned a cute guy at a party, but he was totally faking it. And fine, yes, she caused a scene during Ramadan. It’s all under control. Ish.
Except maybe this time she’s done a little more damage than she realizes. And if Lulu can’t find her way out of this mess soon, she’ll have to do more than repair friendships, family alliances, and wet clothing. She’ll have to go looking for herself.
This is easily one of the most difficult book reviews I’ve ever had to write because I have plenty of mixed feelings about Not the Girls You’re Looking For that make expressing my opinion just a tad more complicated.
While I eventually learned to appreciate many aspects of this story, its beginning was rough, slow, and oftentimes confusing and this continued to drag on for a significant portion of the whole book. There was a lot of weirdly written dialogue that showed no direction and came across as unnatural, making it difficult for me to follow and to understand what was happening.
Speaking of, I don’t think anything was actually happening in the first part of the book. The opening half of Not the Girls You’re Looking For was littered with mundane, directionless scenes that collectively did not constitute an observable plot. The experience felt like watching fish swim in an aquarium; that is, I was introduced to a group of friends and had to read about them navigating through their everyday lives in their natural habitats, but nothing about their lives or their environments was engaging at all.
Additionally, while I was extremely glad to see that this book largely centered female friendships, the dynamics of their relationships somewhat leaned towards toxic rather than genuinely supportive. I could not really see how any of them could be friends with each other because in many occasions, they were petty, hateful, and generally bad friends. They were particularly awful to Emma, who was arguably the most likeable and best behaving one in their bunch.
It was around 54% of the book that Not the Girls You’re Looking For started becoming more interesting and more bearable. The sudden one-eighty turn that the story took on definitely made up for the incredibly weak and frustrating first half. For one thing, the storyline began to move along at a faster, more compelling pace, and as events progressed, it became clearer to me what ideas the story was trying to tackle. In line with this, the unlikely female friendships were developed more dimensionally, and by the end of it all, I was actively cheering for Lulu and her friends.
While the plot significantly improved, the story nevertheless remained to be largely character-driven. At first, this was disadvantageous because Lulu was a highly unlikable, instinctively spiteful, and greatly frustrating character. However, much like the plot, there was a significant amount of impressive character growth for all the girls, with Lulu exhibiting the largest positive change as a character.
Basically, what I am trying to get at is: there were numerous low points and equally as many high points in Not the Girls You’re Looking For. For me, the romance between Lulu and James was not that impressive. They shared some endearing moments and refreshingly honest conversations, but ultimately, their limited chemistry failed to imprint them as a memorable couple. On the other hand, I really loved learning more about Lulu’s family and their dynamics. Lulu’s mother was noticeably overbearing but very well-intentioned, while her father was endlessly patient and nicely contrasted the loud, headstrong personality of his wife. As a family, they were wonderfully eccentric and very relatable.
Another strong point in Not the Girls You’re Looking For was the seamlessly beautiful way cultures were integrated into the story and into the narration itself. In the story, Lulu grappled with her identity as an Arab-American Muslim and internally struggled to come to terms with whom she was and where she really belonged to.
Overall, I have an incredibly turbulent hate-to-love relationship with this novel. My reading experience was filled with an extensive range of strong emotions that was easily spurred on by Aminah Mae Safi’s effectively evocative writing style. There was a lot of beauty held within eloquent passages, but at the same time, the author was blatantly unafraid to show the uglier, crueler, and upsetting side of things. In doing so, socially relevant messages about existing inequalities and realities were effectively broadcast, as well as important themes of love, friendship, and learning from mistakes. Not the Girls You’re Looking For was definitely an unforgettable read: unapologetically messy, hauntingly real, brilliantly snarky, but ultimately, poignant and timeless.
Disclosure: I received a digital ARC of Not the Girls You’re Looking For (via NetGalley) as part of my participation in a blog tour. This neither affects my opinion nor the content of my review. Thank you very much to the blog tour organizer (Aimee @ Aimee, Always) as well as the publisher for the opportunity!
Excerpt from the book:
“Lulu. I can also say thank you. You bitch.” Miriam shoved her hand in Lulu’s face. “All the Arabic I know. Pshhhhh. Besides, between the two of us combined we’ve got the vocabulary of at least a three-year-old,” Miriam huffed.
“Between the two of us,” Lulu said, flourishing her hand, “we are at least one whole terrorist.”
Lo wheezed, coughing on her hit. “You’ve gotta warn me before you say shit like that. Luke was one thing. That—that was beyond.”
But Lulu didn’t care. Tears of laughter were streaming down her face. Miriam shook her head; Lo passed the pipe along, back to Lulu, who took it readily.
“Everybody else is thinking it. I can see it on their faces. All the time. I’m just saying it out loud. Clearing the air,” Lulu said.
“Too much weed in the air for it to be clear,” Miriam said, taking two short hits in quick succession. “And I’ve never thought that.”
“If white people can say it about me, why can’t I say it about myself? Why can’t I take it from them?” Lulu took one drag, considered another, then passed before she had time to reconsider her reconsideration.
Blog tour schedule: