Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
March 2, 2021
Reviewed by Melanie
A couple of chapters into this book, I quickly realized that it was maybe not a great idea to read this book on an empty stomach. So if you’re reading this review and contemplating reading this book (which you absolutely should read, btw), then consider this your first and only warning. Of the 38 chapters in this book, 30 of them mention food in some context, either just in passing or because the heroine is cooking it. I decided to track this via a Twitter thread so if you’re truly curious about all the food mentioned in this book, I have recorded it for your convenience.
Gastronomical elements aside, I found this book to be utterly charming and delightful but also surprisingly heavy. Reena, the best friend of the heroine from Farah Heron’s debut, The Chai Factor, is struggling to find her place in this world. Stuck in a career she doesn’t particularly love and continually frustrated by her overbearing and manipulative parents, she finds solace in baking, her ultimate dream to attend culinary school. It’s an interesting book to read in the midst of a seemingly interminable pandemic because there is a strong underlying theme of loneliness and isolation in this book that I imagine a great many people could relate to. Also, the baking: if there is one single thing that has metaphorically brought us all together in the past year, it’s our communal love of freshly baked bread and the consumption of it. I cannot overstate the number of social media posts that were simply about fresh homemade bread. So I find it interesting that in the era of COVID, this book manages to circumvent the whole pandemic issue but also somehow pay homage to it through the themes of loneliness and bread baking.
In fact, Reena has so much love for baking, she is nurturing two sourdough starters and has named them. Some people have cats, Reena has Brian (the Rye), her temperamental sourdough starter who is fussy and needs spring water, and Sue, her other starter who always behaved with little to no fuss. One of the best lines of the book is when Reena is frustrated by Brian’s capricious nature.
Her first mistake had been naming the starter after a man. After a dozen failed relationships, Reena felt confident that she knew next to nothing about the male segment of the species, except maybe that they often needed some tender coaxing to get them to behave. But she didn’t have the time or energy to coddle Brian through his histrionics now.
Apart from her two pets, er, sourdough starters, Reena has her aforementioned family, two incredibly controlling parents and a younger sister, none of whom she’s particularly all that close to and yet, cannot begin to distance herself from. I know many readers will wonder why Reena doesn’t just cut off her toxic family but given that her family is East African Indian Muslim Canadian, that is just not done. As Reena reminds herself,
And when it came to her family, free will was nothing but a convenient illusion Reena created for her own sanity.
Enter the hero, Nadim. Nadim has moved to Canada from Tanzania in order to work for Reena’s father’s company….and because his father and Reena’s father have decreed that the two shall be married. While Nadim seems on board with that plan. Reena is less than willing and flat out declines. But when Reena loses her job and comes across a cooking competition that awards the winner a scholarship to an elite culinary school, she reluctantly agrees to partner with Nadim in order to finally make her lifelong dreams a reality.
Aside from loneliness, one of the other key themes in this book is secrets. Everyone in this book seems to have some big secret (that ultimately is revealed). Reena’s parents have secrets, her sister has secrets, and Reena spends much of the book and her life, keeping secrets, secrets about who she really is, what she really wants, and even who she really loves. Reena is convinced that exposing her true self will drive away all the people in her life and one of the loveliest parts of this book is watching Reena’s journey unfold, as she begins to like herself and finally accept that she’s worthy of love and care.
If Reena and her journey are the highlights, then Nadim and his secrets are the low point. When his secrets are revealed, they are done so by a third party. So I’m not fully convinced that Nadim would have ever come clean about his past had his secrets not been outed for him. And once they are all exposed, I could identify with Reena, unable to fully place my trust in him. Obviously, since this is a romance and a HEA is kind of the main point, Reena does forgive him and find a way to trust in him but as a reader and a general observer, I find it much harder to so quickly forget and forgive Nadim. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the secret is revealed SO late in the book that there is barely any time for the two to work out their issues before they find their HEA. It feels rushed and slightly sloppy given how much care is given to the rest of the book and the development of the other characters. When they do get together, I get the sense that Reena has finally come to the conclusion that while she is heartbroken by Nadim’s secrets, she can survive without him…she just doesn’t want to, whereas Nadim truly feels desolate.
Overall, I really did enjoy the book. I wish Nadim had been written a little stronger, with a character arc that was more deserving of the heroine. But Reena is the real star of the book (or maybe her baked goods are). Her character arc is so well-defined and nuanced and beautifully plotted, from mental health issues to learning to love herself to the realization that she is strong and capable. While this is definitely a romance, the true highlight for me was about the journey Reena went on to find her true self.
CW for mental health rep, including depression and unspecified eating disorder;
Final Grade – B+