NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian is finding it hard to adjust to her breakup with her high-school boyfriend Caleb, who is attending college in California. Although they had dated for three glorious and happy years, Caleb decided that a long-distance relationship wasn’t a good idea for either of them. After two months of holing up in her dorm room with little social interaction outside of her classes and her polite roommate, Mariam takes advantage of a freebie coupon gotten at student orientation and applies for a virtual matchup with a new romantic interest through a company called HEAVR (“Happily Ever After”).
Imagine her surprise when HEAVR matches her up with three likely prospects, #1 of whom turns out to be . . . Caleb. Wow, isn’t this proof that she and Caleb are Meant to Be? Using an assumed name, Mariam goes on virtual dates with Caleb with the idea that when she eventually reveals her true identity, Caleb will see that he was wrong to break up with her. Their VR dates go well and they enjoy each other’s company tremendously. After a few dates, though, Caleb wants a real-life meeting that will require Mariam’s coming clean with what she has been doing. Meanwhile, HEAVR’s #2 matchup for Mariam turns out to be her co-worker Jeremy, a cute, likable guy who is becoming a new best friend.
This highly readable, thoughtful book explores important themes dealing with transitioning from high school to adult life. Descriptions of the challenges of university life (determining a career path, making new friends, adjusting to different lifestyles and personality types, defining one’s own self, etc.) will resonate with YA readers. The wider discussion regarding the complexity and ethics of Virtual Reality as it is used to influence and control societal behavior will also provoke interest.
There is the common YA offensive language, some religious profanity, one matter-of-fact sexual encounter between Caleb and Mariam, and presentation of a gay relationship between Mariam’s roommate and her girlfriend. There is a good mix of different ethnic cultures that is seamless and unforced and a real pleasure to read.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Diversity, Immigrants, LGBTQIA, Muslim Culture, Navigating through High School, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Peer Relationships, Political Activism, Religion, Rock Musicians, Social Disorders, Social Media, Theatre & Film, Virtual Reality