Review: The Marvelous Mirza Girls

Title: The Marvelous Mirza Girls
Author: Sheba Karim
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Pages: 400
Review copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves May 18, 2021

Summary: To cure her post–senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen is ready to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With Kabir’s help—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen begins to rediscover her joyful voice.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complicated questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love?

My review: Travel focused books tend to catch my attention especially when the setting gets a lot of time on the page. Sheba Karim made sure to drop readers right into India with sights, sounds, smells, and the whole works. There are gorgeous buildings, busy streets with auto-rickshaws and elephants alongside each other, beautiful trees, moonlit nights, wonderful food, fun people, and much more that Noreen gets to enjoy. She also experiences the pollution, stalled traffic, beggars, in additions to stories of gangs, attacks on Muslims, and sexual harassment. And while Noreen definitely points out some positives and finds much to love about India, at times it almost seems like the negatives outweigh the positives in her mind.

Some of the negativity may be a result of the grief she is wading through. She’s hoping to find healing and purpose while she explores this land that her aunt had dreamed of visiting. It is interesting to see her opening up to possibilities and understanding that there might be more going on in the world that what is seen on the surface. She is a writer and is contemplating the idea of stand-up comedy so there are also quite a few moments of humor throughout which I appreciated. I also found the romance to be sweet and even when there are difficulties, they work to communicate their feelings and needs.

A few things about the writing did bump me out of the story. The adults were often referred to by first name. Readers learn about Noreen’s grandparents and even though the terms grandmother, grandfather, naani and nana are mentioned, they are most often referred to in narration with the given names Azra and Jameel. It threw me off a few times. Why would a story centered on the grandchild use their names? In addition, because Noreen likes to write scripts, she also has characters in the scripts that seem to be inspired her grandparents and they have yet more names–Zorah and Jamshed. With so many names, it got a bit confusing in the beginning. There are also paragraphs at the end of some chapters that are in italics and what they are and why they are there is not explained until the end.

Overall though, it was an entertaining rom-com that had me smiling and giggling quite often. I’m not Muslim, so am not speaking from that experience, but there is Muslim content which is likely to be interesting for those unfamiliar with Islam. Several characters are Muslim or have been raised in a Muslim family and there is a variety of representation. Noreen’s grandparents and her aunt are practicing Muslims while Noreen and her mother are culturally Muslim and only practice occasionally.

Recommendation: For those who enjoy travel rom-coms, this will definitely be one to grab. It’s also a good pick for those looking for issues and experiences of college aged characters. It would work for a nice summer read.

*edit made 5/12