by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
After my epic, #readausten22 buddy read in 2022, I’m primed for some amazing retellings of Jane Austen’s books, and Priyanka Taslim’s The Love Match (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm) exceeded my expectations.
Zahra Kahn is a Bangladeshi American teenager who has just graduated from high school. She lives with her mother and two younger siblings in a small apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, where they try to make ends meet after her father’s death several years before. (This book is billed as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but there are some elements of Sense and Sensibility woven in, too!) Zahra was accepted to Columbia University but knows her family can’t afford either the tuition or the loss of her income, so she has deferred her acceptance. Now, she’s trying to figure out what her future might be as she works at the tea shop owned by her friends’ family.
Her mother has a firm idea of the right answer: marriage. Specifically, marriage to someone wealthy who can support Zahra. With that goal in mind, she begins matchmaking, resting her eye on Harun Emon, the son of a wealthy—and “new money”—family who might be willing to make a match in exchange for the Zahra’s family’s distant (very distant!) connection to Bangladeshi royalty. The only problem? Harun. Zahra immediately nicknames him the robot because of his apparent lack of interest in her . . . or anything, really.
That lack of interest is in strong contrast to the reaction Zahra gets from Nayim Aktar, the new, handsome employee at the tea shop.
I loved so much about The Love Match. Zahra is an amazing character: she’s smart, confident, and devoted to her family, even when they frustrate her. Her friendships with Dalia and Daniya Tahir and with Dani’s girlfriend Ximena provide a strong center for her, but they also provide conflict as they other girls make preparations to attend college, emphasizing how out of reach Zahra’s dream is.
Watching Zahra grow and change as she comes to understand both how important her family is to her and also how necessary becoming a writer is to her happiness follows the pattern of many coming of age books, yet Taslim offers something new here. Because of the death of her father, Zahra approaches life and her responsibilities with a sense of maturity that many people her age would not feel.
I’m typically okay with love triangles, but I think even those opposed might like this one: both Harun and Nayim (once Zahra gets to know them) offer compelling reasons for Zahra to develop an attachment. As Harun and Zahra pretend to date to divert their parents’ attention and matchmaking efforts, their developing friendship becomes another anchor for Zahra. And Nayim’s encouragement of her writing gives her the courage to take some risks related to that goal for herself.
Taslim plays with the notes of Austen’s novels—Zahra compares Harun to Mr. Darcy more than once—in a way that pays tribute to her source material without being beholden to it. She incorporates details of Bangladeshi culture, opening the novel with a note to the reader about her choices in writing the story to make it more faithful to her real, Paterson, NJ community. She also weaves details of Zahra’s and her friends’ Muslim heritage into the book, enriching the depth of the story.
There’s so much going on in The Love Match, yet it never felt like too much. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, Priyanka Taslim’s YA novel is well worth putting at the top of your 2023 TBR!
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