Book Review: Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book by a WOC Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's publ...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: A book by a WOC

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A book set in a city that has hosted the Olympics, A book about or involving social media, A book with at least a four-star rating on Goodreads, A book with more than 20 letters in its title (adv)

TW: Some violence, death, sexism

When I was asked to review Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, I was a bit hesitant at first. It seemed very historical fiction-y, which I have nothing against, but don't thoroughly enjoy. But I was sold by the main character and the alternating timelines. I mean, I knew Samira Ahmed is pretty popular in YA because Internment got a lot of praise, and it's definitely one I'll add to my list now. Mad, Bad & Dangerous was partially historical fiction, but it was also much more than that.

Khayyam is a 17-year old American, French, Indian, Muslim girl in Paris with her parents for their regularly scheduled summer holiday. Though she should be embracing her time in a city full of art history (her ultimate goal!), she's full of discontent. She may have ruined her chances at an amazing opportunity, her boyfriend (maybe ex?) is being super shady, and she really just wants to be home in Chicago getting her life back on track. But she meets a mysterious boy who may be the key to discovering key art history, she feels her luck may be about to change. In a parallel timeline, some 200 years prior, Leila is fighting for survival and love - mixed in a love triangle with a powerful Pasha and her true love. As Khayyam works to uncover irreplaceable art history, she begins to learn more about the mysterious Leila and must decide between history and herstory. 

I really struggle with historical fiction. I want to enjoy it, but I just don't. I find the language, I think, the be the most challenging, so it feels less like pleasurable reading and more like academics. So realistically, I will say that the chapters from Leila's perspective were not my favorite. I enjoyed the learning aspect, but I often had to google some words and such, which took away from the fun part of reading a bit. But by the end and overall, I really appreciated Leila's story too.

What I really enjoyed was Khayyam's perspective, which truly is the majority of the book. She's so modern, and facing modern problems, but she's phenomenally smart and brave, while also being flawed, misled, and indecisive. I really loved her character, and really connected with her. I also liked that so much of her story and experience were based on her identity, specifically in terms of culture and ethnicity. I say it so often about YA books, but I really do love reading about diverse perspectives that are different than my own, while being so similar in so many ways.

There's definitely lots of conversations about race and women's rights, which were themes I loved so much. Ahmed did a really great job tying together so many different things - history (there are lots of fun, true tidbits), equality/equity (in lots of ways), a really good YA storyline, some romance, family ties. There's just so much going on and happening within the story, but it isn't messy at all.

"We see history through a tiny peephole and fools ourselves into believing it's the big picture." - Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Samira Ahmed

This entire book is quotable. I had taken pictures of so many different quotes within the book, but I felt the one above really encapsulated so much that the book itself was about, while also just being such a good, true statement. I think my biggest complaint with the book is purely personal preference. The historical chapters were just too historical for my tastes. This is still a really fantastic book for a YA lover who may not enjoy historical fiction, and I totally went into it realizing it would be there. But it just made my feelings a little more complicated about the readability of the book, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆

*Thanks so much to the publisher for providing this review copy free in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

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