Love Edy by Shewanda Pugh
When the author emailed me asking if I’d review this book, I was excited to see an African American girl on the cover, but was more than a little worried about the genre–I don’t typically enjoy contemporary YA romance. However, I’m glad I gave it a chance. Shewanda Pugh is a seriously talented writer, and I was sucked in by her beautiful language from the very first page.
Love Edy centers on a girl named Edy Phelps (short for Edith) who hails from an elite African American family in Boston and who lives in a neighborhood of upper-class, uber-rich minorities living in the South End (think Gossip Girl in Boston but less snarky, and with more diversity). Next door to Edy lives the insanely hot football player Hassan Pradhan, who Edy has known since childhood. They’ve grown up together–Hassan’s mother practically raised Edy–and now she finds herself falling in love with him, despite growing parental pressures against their relationship. When a new guy, Wyatt, moves in across the street, tensions fly between the three of them, and meanwhile Edy still hasn’t even gotten her first period.
Pugh’s poetic writing style combined with her themes of excess versus poverty as well as some of the character relationships reminded me a lot of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, which I really enjoyed (only without the paranormal treasure hunter part :) ). Edy is a wonderfully complex and believable character.
However, other than Edy, there are very few positive female characters in this book. At times, I was taken aback by the harshness of the language used about the other teenage girls in the novel who are constantly throwing themselves and their bodies at Edy’s (hot muscly) football team friends. While this is addressed somewhat in the novel, I wasn’t sure I was left with a good feeling about how girls in the novel were described.
I was also left a little unsure about Hassan’s character. While I was excited to see an Indian-American love interest with very realistic flaws in the novel, there were aspects to his portrayal that didn’t quite ring authentically for me. For example, he makes a comment about how Edy probably could count off more Indian gods than he could, something that I found an extremely strange thing to quantify, and I never really understood why Hassan and his father Ali have Muslim names when they are supposed to be Hindu (this is addressed but never truly answered). More importantly, I didn’t buy the big reason the star-crossed lovers Edy and Hassan couldn’t get together: that Hassan is supposed to marry someone else, someone he’s been promised to marry since childhood. Not only does this feel unusual in this modern day and age (a 9 year old kid taken to India to meet his future bride?), the constant references to the “centuries of tradition” keeping them apart felt very melodramatic, when in my view it would be very modern racism and prejudices keeping them apart. That said, I have a feeling that some of these questions I was left with might tie into the next book?
But perhaps the most problematic part of the novel was the plot. Somewhere around the 75% mark, the plot line takes a very strange and unnecessary turn, when what reads as a very well written, unique, and compelling contemporary teen romance turns into an action-thriller. Characters we were rooting for turn out unexpectedly, violence that wasn’t in the novel before suddenly appears, and the writing also felt like it dropped off. It felt like the author decided that the ending I was expecting—a powerful one with a parental confrontation, some character growth, and some dialogue about expectations and traditions—was too boring, and decided to insert more action in order to create a more exciting, less predictable climax (while leaving room for a sequel).
All in all, I was left completely unsure how to rate this one since the first 3/4 of the book was so wonderful and compelling. I don’t typically love romance, but I really, truly did get into this one. I loved the diversity of the cast, and I loved some of their intelligent conversations. Shewanda Pugh is clearly a talented author and definitely one I will be watching out for in the future.
Review of ebook received free from the author.