Our A Show for Two book review considers a new young adult book that is among the most authentic of NYC-set rom-coms.
A Show for Two accomplishes so much in its 400 pages, it’s nothing short of remarkable. This book manages to be a powerful meditation on the value of following your passions, a harrowing depiction of unsupportive parents, an exquisite love letter to New York City… oh, and a really sweet rom-com, too.
Mina loves filmmaking, and wants to pursue it, whereas Emmitt has a passion for photography. And this book really takes the time to explore why they love these things so much. Is it a question of revealing the world or reframing it, of preserving moments or improving them? Mina reflects on this and discusses it, considers how much sacrifice such a passion is worth.
In a story all too familiar to many first-generation Americans, Mina’s parents have absolutely no time for frivolities like filmmaking and her sister’s affinity for volleyball. But this goes beyond the Disney Channel trope of “well-meaning parents just want kid to do X instead of Y.” Mina’s parents are legitimately awful to her: They never miss an opportunity for a cutting remark, never fail to prophesy her failure or undermine her self-worth, and never abstain from trying to destroy her self-confidence. Everything she does comes back to how it reflects on her parents. When Mina and her sister Anam are talking about getting out of their parents’ house like it’s an existential crisis, they aren’t being hyperbolic.
I’m sure many readers will consider this portrayal of Mina’s parents to be over-the-top or unjustified, but I can say from personal experience that this is not as much of an exaggeration as one would think. My mother, though a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant rather than a Muslim Bangladeshi one, is not far off from these parents. When they are so convinced Mina won’t get into her dream school, they make a wager against it? My mother did that. When they regularly tell her she’s a disappointment and an embarrassment (“How could we have failed as parents in raising such a child”)? Been there, done that. It’s not often a relationship like this is portrayed in media—in fact, no other example comes to mind—and I was surprised and gratified to read a book hewing so close to my own life experience.
But to move this A Show for Two book review to a lighter note, this is the most NYC book I’ve ever read in YA, and perhaps the best depiction of the city give-or-take Ghosting. It gets all of the tiny details right, from subway stations to park views to the local landmarks. I live in Astoria, where the fictional high school is located, so these subway stations and local sights are my stomping grounds. It is so obvious this book was written by a native New Yorker who knows all the tiny details needed to imperceptibly make a book an authentic NYC story.
This also ties into an important facet of growing up in New York, which is very hard to explain to out-of-towners: Teenagers are fiercely independent here. Because they have to commute to school across half the city in many cases, they go wherever and do whatever they please outside of school. The entire city is a $2.75 MetroCard swipe away (less with a student MetroCard). That is why, even with the strictest of parents, Mina is out and about at will—once you are away from home, your parents have no way of compelling you to return. In fact, when the situation at home isn’t great, it makes sense that she would seize opportunities to trek across the boroughs. Again, this was my exact experience, and it’s lovely to find it in a book.
Also factoring into this book’s authenticity is the foul language splashed across every page. For New Yorkers, swearing is as natural as breathing. There are few books that commit to actually portraying the way we talk, probably for fear of being banned by overzealous parents, but what a blessed relief to turn the page and see NYC high schoolers talking the way they do in real life! It’s especially nice because the book is otherwise very wholesome—the romance does not progress beyond some steamy kisses—and it’s nigh unheard of to find that combo: a PG romance with characters swearing like sailors. For this writer, that’s a huge bonus to note in this A Show for Two book review!
As for the characters and the romance—they are superbly realized. The romance is certainly swoon-worthy—leisurely paced, with iconic moments and great banter. As for the two leads, they are quite prickly in a very good way. Less charitable readers might find them unlikable, but I actually liked them (especially Mina) far more because of it! And it’s absolutely believable they would hate each other’s guts at first, and that makes it so much fun to see them slowly come around to each other.
My one criticism of the book would be that the supporting cast finds Mina far more unlikable than I do. Her friend Rosie and sister Anam accuse her of being selfish and uncaring and unhealthily focused on winning a film competition… but we don’t see any of that. We see a girl who is focused and determined, but we also see her almost always backing up her loved ones. Having dreams that take you away from home is not the crime that Rosie and Anam seem to think it is, and my affection for them as characters took a large hit when they took Mina to task.
But other than that, this book became an instant favorite of mine, which is why I scrambled to share it with everyone I’ve ever met, as well as write this A Show for Two book review. It was so hard to put down—I felt the dread whenever Mina came home to her parents, I felt her love for film and NYC and the people she’s close to, and I was rooting so hard for her and Emmitt to be happy. Tashie Bhuiyan made me want to be friends with these characters and explore my beloved city all over again, and that’s really all I can ask.
‘A Show for Two’ hit store shelves on May 10, 2022
This article was written by Subjectify contributor Irvin K. Look for more recommendations on our books page.