I can sum up my feelings about this novel thus: I read it in a single day.
From the Blurb:
Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.
When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man, a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realises that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.
First of all, I need to get something off my chest. Danyal is more than just a pretty face. It says it in the title. It says it far too obviously throughout the book. It’s a fair and valid statement, but the line was a little too forced-in for my tastes, making it feel cheesy and the wrong kind of cliché.
Now that that is out of the way: I loved this book. From the concept through to the execution, Syed M. Masood had me hooked. It is not often — for me, at least — to read a contemporary/romance novel from a male perspective. I adored every second of it, and found it refreshing to read about romance from a man’s eyes.
This perspective has a particular importance to young men and boys reading YA. More Than Just a Pretty Face depicts inherently good young men learning about themselves and trying to become better people — in whichever way they deem best. I loved seeing boys being helped to reach their full potential, and dealing with very real and very common issues and prevailing. They feel, they hurt, and they talk about these things (eventually). All of this, I think, provides a very important lesson to all readers, but particularly to young men.
The novel as a whole covers lots of important issues, including religion, feminism, and the pressure around academia. It also includes awesome POC representation, and *some* LGBTQ+ representation.
The main characters of More Than Just a Pretty Face are Muslim, and the novel focusses a lot on the religion. It was incredible to see Muslim characters in the limelight, and I found myself learning a lot about Islam (which only highlighted to me how much more I should be educating myself). However, I cannot speak for the accuracy of the Muslim representation, and so I encourage you to read other reviews for this insight. Even a quick look through Goodreads suggests that there could be improvements which is something to take into consideration, especially as a non-Muslim reader.
Danyal Jilani, as we’re well aware, is a very handsome young man. As a result, his character appears quite arrogant at the beginning of the novel. In fact, I disliked him somewhat at the start. His character development, though, was awesome to watch. He became so much more than just a pretty face by the end, and I couldn’t help but love him for his endearing personality. Danyal is a multi-faceted character who, yes, is extremely confident in his appearance, but is severely self-conscious about other aspects of himself. He is kind and flawed, and the kind of person you wouldn’t be surprised to meet.
Danyal’s best friends, Sohrab and Intezar, are also very well-rounded. They are unique and have their own vivid backstories that I would love to know more about. The same goes for Kaval, Danyal’s long-time crush, and Bisma, the nerdy, sweet girl Danyal meets as an arranged-marriage prospect. I adored Bisma for her strong beliefs and opinions, and for her hidden, scarred side that was heart-breaking to see. And for all her flaws, I really liked Kaval too. She is incredibly fierce. She knows exactly what she wants and she isn’t afraid to get it — which isn’t a villainous thing, in itself.
The plot of More Than Just a Pretty Face will be familiar to many contemporary or YA readers. The overarching layer of Renaissance Man is comfortable and none-too-shocking. But that is absolutely perfect for the themes and messages it is trying to convey through the other aspects of the novel, like Danyal’s part-time job and his religious life.
More Than Just a Pretty Face gave me feelings of immense joy and I could not stop myself from reading. I said at the beginning of this review that I read it in a day, which is always a good sign for me. I was completely invested in Danyal’s life.
This novel is perfect for contemporary lovers. Syed M. Masood has done an excellent job at writing this multi-layered romance.