Cover Image: Sway with Me

Sway with Me

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Member Reviews

I tried finishing this book and could not get into it.  I did not write a Goodreads review because I try not to put out negative reviews for books that are still trying to gain traction.
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Syed M. Masood never fails to make me laugh. This book is wonderful for the way it portrays family, and geeky, lovable men. We being with a very fumbling main protagonist named Arsalan, trying his best to convince super cool Beenish to speak to her desi aunt matchmaker for him. The plot involving the two of them dancing together and getting closer is a bit contrived, but you're just so busy laughing at their jokes, and enjoying their banter, that you don't mind. And Arsalan's Nana is a wonderful supporting character. I love books that can show loving intergenerational relationships. As an immigrant who grew up living with a grandparent, this felt very real to me. There are also important discussions of race in this book, but it doesn't feel preachy. I liked the way Masood had the characters talk about how some desi folks want to be matched with lighter skins folks. Internalized oppression right there. I think this is a thoughtful way for young folks to think about who they are, and what they believe about their race and cultures. It's a sweet romance, but it's more than that.
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Pitched as a lighthearted desi take on She's All That, Sway With Me was significantly more sobering than I expected. There's a cute and sweet romance, but it's more a coming-of-age / family story. Arsalan's really sweet, and I like how he and Beenish helped each other with their respective family situations.

I think, because of all the rather dark themes explored in the story (parental abuse, spousal abuse, horrible abusive men with power, gendered discrimination, forced marriage, etc), my absolute favourite part of this book is Beenish's friend Diamond. He's hilarious, and a welcome bit of joy in every scene.

That being said, I think that the romance between Arsalan and Beenish really hit its stride late in the book, when Arsalan realizes Beans' true motives for asking him to be her dance partner. His insight leads to a deep conversation about their relationships with their respective mothers, and it was a nice realization of how well they'd gotten to understand each other. They also have a lovely conversation about gravity and how opposites not just attract but balance each other out, which is sweet.

I like the other members of their families as well -- Nana is a hoot, Aiza Aunty is a star, and Qirat is super relatable. But those stories were a tad more depressing than I expected from a rom com, and scenes featuring Arsalan's father and Qirat's fiance can be downright triggering. 

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Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This review will go live on my blog on Dec 28.
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While I enjoyed the story in the end, I wasn’t enjoying it until probably 2/3 of the way into the book. The premise was interesting but I had a hard time getting into any of the characters initially. In the end I loved how the character had developed and how it ended but was not in love with it as a whole.
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"𝘐 𝘴𝘦𝘦. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸, 𝘈𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘯, 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘐'𝘷𝘦 𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘰𝘯 𝘮𝘺 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘸𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘥 𝘣𝘺 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘺 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘱𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦 𝘶𝘴.(...)"

'𝐒𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐖𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐌𝐞' 𝐛𝐲 𝐒𝐲𝐞𝐝 𝐌. 𝐌𝐚𝐬𝐨𝐨𝐝: 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐫𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰

First, let me tell you about some 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬: childhood abuse and trauma; dealing with the loss of someone close; forgiveness; and real life pain.

This book was one of the most emotional ones I've read. There was a scene I was literally on the break of tears. Arsalan is a teenage boy who's afraid. He's spent all his life being afraid. Scared of his father, scared for his Nana, scared of his feelings for Beans, scared of making new friends. But all of it changed. Beans, the girl he has feelings for, got him to come out of his shell and that was just beautiful. 🤿

The way this book was written was magnanimous and the author also brought important themes such as relationship violence and feminism and it was so well-incorporated! I love the dynamic between all characters but especially Nana and Arsalan. A wise great-grandfather and his great-grandson having important discussions on life and playing chess. There's just a vibe you can't get past here. Also, MASSIVE representation on Muslim culture and community. Absolutely incredible, I recommend it so much, especially now, for the Holidays, since there are scenes set around Christmas! 🎄
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Syed M. Masood, author of More Than Just A Pretty Face and The Bad Muslim Discount, returns with his third young adult novel, Sway With Me. Masood combines elements of self-discovery and the struggles of navigating relationships—set to the backdrop of a dance showcase—to create a work that is more coming-of-age than contemporary romance. . .
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This is a wonderful book that I had the opportunity to read for a TBR and Beyond blog tour interview!
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Refreshing. Entertaining. Humorous. More of a coming-of-age than a romance, this contemporary fiction manages to hold one’s attention through emotional facets amidst the fun of a desi wedding and the distinctive, strong personalities of desi characters.

Sway With Me is a coming-of-age YA romantic comedy featuring Muslim Pakistani-American characters.

Having spent all his life like an old soul submerged in books and distanced from a world that fellow teenagers easily fit into, Arsalan is worried about the loneliness that will soon cloud over him after his aged great-grandfather will inevitably leave. When his abusive alcoholic father is expected to enter his peaceful abode, the traditional and shy Arsalan opens up to the idea of an arranged marriage. Now all he wants is a matchmaker.

Luckily, Beenish’s stepmother is one and hopefully Beenish has thereby caught on a few ways to set up a match. So a deal is made: she will help him find a future life partner and he, in turn, will perform a dance with her. But Arsalan isn’t much of a dancer and Beenish isn’t truthful about the risk of performing at her older sister’s wedding.

With a plot that is both refreshing and entertaining, the characters are allowed a great canvas to paint themselves against. With Arsalan’s studious personality often projecting him as an old-fashioned and quiet guy who turns to facts and rationality at every turn, he might take some time to sneak into the readers’ hearts but once he does, the kind boy who has been through a lot will make a place for himself.

Beenish as a love interest stands out with her intensely opinionated and fiercely rebellious personality that complements Arsalan through a subtle grumpy x sunshine romance trope. While the hilarious and heartwarming banter keeps the reader excitedly engaged, the romantic strings aren’t played with great intensity—not necessarily a critique if one prefers to gravitate more towards the endearing and touching individual story lines than the romance.

It’s the simple yet effective writing that establishes every side character with as much essence as Arsalan and Beenish. And it’s the same writing that turns this prose into an honest, philosophical, and religiously responsive narration. Unfiltered, unconventional thoughts are well presented through a diverging and diverse lens as tradition and culture are contemplated. The themes of family and friendship are smoothly integrated in a story where community and individualism is both appreciated and questioned.

Despite some aspects remaining under-explored, from the dance to certain familial relationships, Sway With Me does make one ponder over who matters the most to us, the timelessness of elderly love, being a misfit in a generation that runs on references, and the essence of finding someone in life who despite being different feels like home.
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I like the oldie but goodie aesthetic and Arsalan's character, but definitely not a huge fan of Beenish. 

Although this is a light YA contemporary, it also deals with some serious themes such as verbal and physical abuse, child beating and women objectification. 

Definitely recommend this if you enjoy dancing elements, strangers-hate-friends-lovers romance and new found family tropes.
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I struggled initially to get into this book and had to google a lot of terms like "desi" to better understand the cultural context. That being said, I enjoyed learning more about the culture and really enjoyed the different viewpoints on Islam presented in this book. It was refreshing to get out of my comfort zone and being forced to really think about what I thought would be an easy read! About halfway through I really didn't want to stop reading and was dying to find out how it would end! I loved how Syed Masood presented the idea of love meaning you are present with those you love and spending time with them instead of sacrificing for them to show your love. Arsalan was an endearing character and clearly one of us - my favorite line of the book was "one does not buy books, one befriends them"
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Refreshing. Entertaining. Humorous. More of a coming-of-age than a romance, this contemporary fiction manages to hold one’s attention through emotional facets amidst the fun of a desi wedding and the distinctive, strong personalities of desi characters.

Sway With Me is a coming-of-age YA romantic comedy featuring Muslim Pakistani-American characters.

Having spent all his life like an old soul submerged in books and distanced from a world that fellow teenagers easily fit into, Arsalan is worried about the loneliness that will soon cloud over him after his aged great-grandfather will inevitably leave. When his abusive alcoholic father is expected to enter his peaceful abode, the traditional and shy Arsalan opens up to the idea of an arranged marriage. Now all he wants is a matchmaker.

Luckily, Beenish’s stepmother is one and hopefully Beenish has thereby caught on a few ways to set up a match. So a deal is made: she will help him find a future life partner and he, in turn, will perform a dance with her. But Arsalan isn’t much of a dancer and Beenish isn’t truthful about the risk of performing at her older sister’s wedding.

With a plot that is both refreshing and entertaining, the characters are allowed a great canvas to paint themselves against. With Arsalan’s studious personality often projecting him as an old-fashioned and quiet guy who turns to facts and rationality at every turn, he might take some time to sneak into the readers’ hearts but once he does, the kind boy who has been through a lot will make a place for himself.

Beenish as a love interest stands out with her intensely opinionated and fiercely rebellious personality that complements Arsalan through a subtle grumpy x sunshine romance trope. While the hilarious and heartwarming banter keeps the reader excitedly engaged, the romantic strings aren’t played with great intensity—not necessarily a critique if one prefers to gravitate more towards the endearing and touching individual story lines than the romance.

It’s the simple yet effective writing that establishes every side character with as much essence as Arsalan and Beenish. And it’s the same writing that turns this prose into an honest, philosophical, and religiously responsive narration. Unfiltered, unconventional thoughts are well presented through a diverging and diverse lens as tradition and culture are contemplated. The themes of family and friendship are smoothly integrated in a story where community and individualism is both appreciated and questioned.

Despite some aspects remaining under-explored, from the dance to certain familial relationships, Sway With Me does make one ponder over who matters the most to us, the timelessness of elderly love, being a misfit in a generation that runs on references, and the essence of finding someone in life who despite being different feels like home.
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Disclaimer: I received this e-arc from the publisher. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: Sway With Me

Author: Syed M. Masood

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 3.5/5

Diversity: Desi Anxiety rep MC who lives with great grandpa and is previously homeschooled. Blended family is shown in a main side character. Most of the main characters in the book are Desi.

Recommended For...: young adult readers, romance, contemporary, dance, alternative and blended family

Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Recommended Age: 15+ (Sexual innuendos, Language, Arranged marriage, Sexual content, Child abuse, Religion, Religious abuse)

Explanation of CWs: There are sexual innuendos throughout the book. There is some cursing in the book. Arranged marriage is discussed and is a preferred choice by the MC. Slight sexual content is mentioned in the book. Child abuse is discussed and mentioned. A variety of different religions including Muslim, Christianity, etc. is mentioned several times. There is also allusions to religious abuse.

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Arsalan has learned everything he knows from Nana, his 100-year-old great-grandfather. This includes the fact that when Nana dies, Arsalan will be completely alone in the world, except for his estranged and abusive father. So he turns to Beenish, the step-daughter of a prominent matchmaker, to find him a future life partner. Beenish’s request in return? That Arsalan help her ruin her older sister’s wedding with a spectacular dance she’s been forbidden to perform.

Despite knowing as little about dancing as he does about girls, Arsalan wades into Beenish’s chaotic world to discover friends and family he never expected. And though Arsalan’s old-school manners and Beenish’s take-no-prisoners attitude clash every minute, they find themselves getting closer and closer—literally. All that’s left to realize is that the thing they both really want is each other, if only they can get in step.

Review: For the most part I liked the book. I thought it was an okay read, the characters were well developed and I really liked Beans. I thought the world building was well done as well and the pacing was on point. I also liked the storyline and I really felt for our MC.

However, there were some issues I had with the book. The book contains a lot of literature references, a ton of them to older books, and a lot of them went over my head and I would assume some of them would go over a lot of younger readers’ heads as well. However, there was a very awkward self insert of the author’s first book and how much a main side character liked it and it really put me off of this book at that point considering I had some issues with that other book as well. The MC, however much I liked him, felt really stiff and I don’t see him as one that is really likeable until about the last 1/3 of the book. Finally, but most important, I also saw that there was a lot of shame and hostility towards the Muslim religion. There was some towards Christianity, but I noticed it a lot more towards Muslim. It read like there was some shame in the Muslim religion and, when I read some of the ownvoice reviewers on Goodreads, they had similar sentiments and it’s a huge concern of theirs regarding this book. I’m not advocating that this book is necessarily bad, but I do think that ownvoice reviewers should be heard on this issue especially considering this book is marketed towards them.

Verdict: It was ok.
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Sway with me is a YA contemporary featuring a skeptical, awkward protagonist, an abstruse, crotchety (great-)grandpa, a rebellious, prickly love interest, and the most ridiculously extra side characters.  It has a similar vibe as David Yoon's Super Fake Love Song and Gayle Forman's We Are Inevitable. Even though the premise is relatively predictable, the directions Masood chose to take the story aren't. He doesn't set out to write likeable characters--there are moments when they're downright exasperating--but it's a refreshing change from the relatively monotonous landscape that makes up YA contemporary. As much I as appreciate the rep, I'm not a huge fan of how preachy the book got at times. I can excuse some philosophizing by writing it off as part of Arsalan and Nana's character building, but Masood takes it a little too far. I also wish the ending were a little more developed. Still, the book manages to be both hopeful and realistic which isn't an easy thing to pull off, so props to Masood.
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This book was absolutely AMAZING. I mean, I didn’t go in with any expectations- good or bad, but well, it turned out to be pretty amazing! I can’t hold account for the Muslim rep, since I am not a Muslim, but I thought it was pretty good.

Plot:

To be honest, the plot was special, but not at the same time. Like the breaking the bonds of patriarchy part was pretty amazing, but the romance part wasn’t anything special. It was basically badass girl trying to help/makeover awkward boy. But I loved the entire thing about dancing in the wedding even though it was prohibited. I love how it was developed most of all.
It was honestly so intriguing to see how it would end, that I couldn’t put the book down, it was so freaking amazing!

Characters:

Not gonna lie, I didn’t enjoy reading about Arsalan much. I mean, he was just weird. And I am weird, and I am saying that. He was also honestly a little annoying, like how naive could someone be? Like, had the book not been from his POV, and I would have to read about him as the love interest, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book as much.

But Beenish, oh my god, I loved her! She was so charismatic, and just a bubble of energy, honestly! I loved Nana too, and I loved to see their relationship grow. It was amazing.

Another side character I enjoyed reading about was Qirat, Beans’ sister. She was so sweet, and mature. Diamond Khan was another side character who grew on me.

I also enjoyed reading about Muslims, since I never really have read Muslim rep in books a lot.

Writing Style:

I was hooked to the book that’s how good the writing style was. It didn’t even take time for me to adjust it. I do wish the introduction would have been a little longer, but then that’s just my opinion, it might suit others.
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Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy. Masood’s books always have me laughing on one page, then tearing up on the next. This hilarious and philosophical novel is the same, with the same amount of can’t-put-it-down-ness. Some reader triggers are domestics abuse and alcohol recovery. I wish the expletives were left out, so I could give this a clean rating. While not a religious book, this will appeal to Muslim youth in America, whether or not they are struggling with Muslim identity, belief, and levels of practicing faith. It’s halal enough (but not completely), so I will still recommend this book for our classroom library.
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An absolute & utterly refreshing YA coming of age story about embracing one’s identity without letting the past define who you can become in life. This is a beautiful story about friendship, family, faith and young love.
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Pakistani Muslim rom-com desi book!! Ahh tis the wedding season and Arsalan and Beenish! Review will be up on my Bookstagram account close to the publication date (and I’m also a teacher).
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