Top critical review
She starts the book off fairly amusing and relateable with an excellent depiction of anxiety and paranoia
Reviewed in the United States on November 9, 2017
This was actually a 3.5 star read for me, but the more I pondered it over the two-day span between finishing it and reviewing it, I realized it wasn't quite remarkable enough for me to round up.
Here We Are Now tells the story of Taliah, a biracial white/Arabic teen who's never met her father. She's only working on an educated guess that he might be Julian Oliver, rockstar sensationalist, when the man shows up at her door one day to tell her that her assumptions were correct - and he wants to take her to meet his family, including his dying father.
Tal isn't the most enjoyable narrator in the beginning of the story. She starts the book off fairly amusing and relateable with an excellent depiction of anxiety and paranoia, but those feelings quickly morph into a level of snark and distrust that's not pleasant to read through. Despite the fact that Julian's entire existence points blatantly to a million lies Tal's mother has fed her throughout her life, Tal refuses to place any blame on her mother.
The nice thing about Taliah, however, is how much she grows; throughout the story, through a handful of "tough love" scenarios from multiple friends and family members, she learns that life isn't as black and white as she thinks it is. She grows to slowly trust people and open up, and is forced to come to terms with her unhealthy level of possessiveness over her best friend, Harlow.
The most unexpected thing about Here We Are Now was how quickly and how much I fell in love with Tal's father, Julian. From the opening of the story, I honestly expected him to be this flighty, dirtbag sort of stereotypical rockstar who would show up, get her hopes up, and then shatter her dreams a few times before disappearing again at the end of the book. That is totally not Julian at all, though.
From the beginning, he's awkward, uncertain, and a little bit shy about learning he's Taliah's father. I won't spoil the fine details for you, but we learn that Julian hasn't been half bad enough to deserve some of the events of the past, and he's actually a pretty well-meaning guy. His banter with Tal is so enjoyable, and I loved the way the we got to see the past through his memories, but they were written in Lena's (Tal's mother) perspectives.
Harlow is Tal's childhood best friend, who happens to be a lesbian. I loved the idea of Harlow to bits: she's obsessed with baking, she's sassy, she's proud of her sexuality, and she's got a good head on her shoulders. Unfortunately, her actual interactions with Tal and the other characters in the story are cringe-y most of the time, and her "tough love" spiel about not relying on only one person would have been a lot better if it hadn't been laced with her breaking a promise to Tal so she could hang out with her girlfriend.
The romance in this book was one hundred percent the biggest disappointment in the entire story. It felt so incredibly lackluster and out of place that I probably would have rounded up to 4 stars if I could have somehow gone through and edited out the entire existence of this friend-of-the-family character. He's not a bad kid, but it would be so nice to see a YA contemporary every now and then that doesn't end in a couple forming, and this book would have been perfect for that! Totally a missed opportunity.
First of all, I am not Muslim - or religious at all - and I cannot speak for how good this rep was. I do know, however, that Jasmine Warga identifies as a Middle Eastern/American woman, so the POC rep is own-voice and was so enjoyable to read. Tal's mother's perspectives frequently reflect on her Muslim beliefs and family, as well as how incredibly homesick she is for Jordan. She frets constantly that she is letting her parents down if she doesn't make a name for herself in the States, and there is even a solid bit of conversation about hijab-wearing and eating habits!
Of course, there is also the lesbian rep that I mentioned in Harlow's case, which I found really enjoyable. Harlow is out and proud and has no questions about her sexuality. There are no tropes, or painful moments we commonly see through queer characters in YA contemporary titles.
All in all, Here We Are Now was a fun read, but nothing spectacular. Had it not been for the romantic aspect, I would have given this 4 stars, but it was such a downer that I couldn't justify rounding up the rating. If you're looking for a fun YA contemporary story about family, with some nice diverse representation thrown in, or if you're already a Jasmine Warga fan, I'd recommend picking it up.