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.
A matchmaking mission and a wedding to crash
All Arsalan Nizami has left in the world is his great-grandfather, Nana. Since Arsalan’s mother passed away and his abusive father became estranged, he has lived with Nana. With his great-grandfather being the only family he has left, Arsalan holds tightly onto his mother’s last words imploring him to find love so that he may appreciate the beauty of life. The first step to finding love? Consulting the neighborhood matchmaker, Roshni. Except to get onto her exclusive client list with no money or connections, he has to gain the support of her stepdaughter, Beenish Siraj. Beenish agrees to assist Arsalan—on the condition that Arsalan return the favor by helping her sabotage her older sister’s wedding with a forbidden dance.
An interesting premise that fails to deliver
Pitched as a She’s All That retelling, I expected a cute rom-com with some heavier elements considering the complex family relationships mentioned in the summary. I was ready to be swept away by the dancing, conflicted by the difficult familial relationships, invested in the romance and touched by the wholesome friendships. Instead, Sway With Me just fell. . .flat.
The characters weren’t particularly likable or relatable, which made them difficult to empathize with. Some aspects of the novel felt trope-y and more tell than show, such as Beenish (nicknamed Beans) being characterized as rebellious largely through explicit language and graphic tees. Arsalan’s nerdiness was pretentious rather than endearing, his relationship with Beenish felt more like instalove rather than actual chemistry, and the progression of the plot felt forced awkwardly along rather than flowing in a way that made sense.
Not only were the characters unlikable, but I also wasn’t a huge fan of the Muslim representation. While the representation wasn’t problematic per se, it wasn’t the best and could have been more complexly developed to more accurately reflect the diverse array of experiences for those who practice the faith.
An emotional disconnect
While these elements of the book could have been balanced out, the struggle to connect with the characters and the writing style ultimately kept Sway With Me from living up to its potential. Because of the writing and cast of characters, it was difficult to become emotionally invested in the story as a whole.
Sway With Me definitely has some coming-of-age elements as seen through Arsalan’s character growth and developing relationships throughout the story—with his family, new friends, and the love interest. However, the story ultimately fails to deliver on the potential of a wholesome rom-com with strong Muslim representation and relatable characters to create a more well-rounded story.
Sway With Me by Syed M. Masood was released on November 9, 2021.