Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a young adult love story as the two Bengali girls in their Irish school end up pretending to be in a relationship to help each other out, despite being seemingly opposite. Hani is known for being friendly and popular, even if her friends don’t really understand her being Muslim, whereas Ishu is known for being a standoffish overachiever, and they’ve never really got on. When Hani tells her friends she’s bisexual and they don’t believe her, she accidentally makes up a relationship with Ishu. This turns into something that could be mutually advantageous, as Ishu wants to become head girl and therefore needs some popularity at the school, but what if they actually get along better than they expected?
This book combines fake dating and vaguely enemies-to-lovers tropes (they’re more like people who don’t get on, but have been forced together previously due to both being Bengali) with an exploration of common teenage issues like dealing with friends who’ve grown into different people and navigating family tensions. Despite the main narrative being around the fake dating, the various plots woven throughout mean it doesn’t just feel like a romance, and in fact the romance’s conclusion is more understated than the importance of the resolution of other parts of the plot. Both protagonists (the story is told from alternating points of view) get their own stories and character development, and in particular Ishu’s story around learning to aim for things she wants rather than what her parents want and repairing her relationship with her sister is well-rounded and interesting.
Other than the opening plot point about Hani’s friends having issues about her bisexuality when she comes out to them, the book isn’t really focused on coming out, either at school or to family, and that gives it a lot of space to explore the other plot points and also have their romance going on throughout. It’s also nice that even being friends/’fake dating’ each other means that both Hani and Ishu stand up for themselves and work out more about themselves, showing that sometimes other people can help you gain perspective on things.
A YA novel featuring a love story between two Bengali girls with very different lives, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a fun book that manages to pack a lot into its narrative. Fans of Jaigirdar’s debut The Henna Wars will probably like this one as well (I actually liked it more), and it’s a book for readers looking for both cute romance and other plot going on too.
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