Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani
Reason for reading: Lebanese author for Orbis Terrarum Challenge
Summary (from Publishers Weekly): "Plucky, 20-something, Lebanese-Canadian Aline Hallaby has a promising career at one of Montreal's "Big Four" accounting firms; a marriage proposal from her nice (if unexciting) boyfriend; and a closet filled with Cavalli, Chloe, and Christian Louboutin. When she fails her final professional certification exam, the once-dutiful Arab girl plunges headlong into a quarter-life crisis, fleeing to Cuba for a week of heady rebellion (mojitos, men, participation in a beauty pageant) with her two closest friends. There, Ali is forced to decide if she will continue to live according to the expectations of her traditional Muslim parents, or chase her own dreams."
First line: "You know you have a shitty job when your clients would rather slit their own throats than return your phone calls."
My thoughts: This was chick lit with a bit more substance. And with ethnicity, amazingly - most chick lit I've read is mighty darn white, apart from Kavita Daswani, who I also read for this challenge. And also, it's set in Canada, another rare thing. It's funny, I'm more taken aback by Canadian references in chick lit (to loonies, our $1 coins and Canadian chain stores, for example) than I am to American or British ones, simply because I hardly ever see them. It's neat to come across them, though. Ali's struggles with what she wants to do with her life are typical for the genre and so are her issues with her family, although the very traditional Muslim family adds another layer to the typical mother-daughter conflicts in chick lit. And, of course, there are references to the racism Muslims face post-911.
In addition to the Montreal setting and the Lebanese community, the book also explores Cuba, particularly the divide between what the North American toursits see and what life there is actually like.
But I have to say, maybe I'm getting a bit old for chick lit, because I found myself thinking, "Oh, poor, poor pitiful beautiful, fit, fashionable, healthy, well-educated you, Ali!" a fair bit. She seems pretty Gen-X-ish - obsessed with fashion and rather a slacker. Harder-working than many due to pressure from her parents, but she's stunned when she gets called on her at-work Internet surfing and inappropriate business attire. But then, that's what 20-something chick lit is about and finding love and a career are valid issues, if a bit hard to stomach when you're older, married, and definitely not wearing midriff-baring tops to the club on the weekend (not that I ever did!). Maybe I need to hurry up and have a baby so I can start relating to chick lit's older sister, mommy lit.
I did find the book a bit long - there seemed like a few times where it could have ended quite nicely and then kept on going. But I did like the conclusion with Ali triumphing over the scary women at her accounting firm and finding her true career passion and the right guy (as you knew she would). And, as PW say in their review, Dajani's wit and warmth shine through, both of which are welcome.
Apparently Dajani has a new book out about Ali's cousin Ranya, who is duped into marrying a gay guy because he's wealthy Muslim boy from a good family. I might give that one a try. For chick lit with a few twists, she's worth a read.