When Tara Met Farah by Tara Pammi
Bollywood Dance & Drama Society Book 1
January 26, 2021
Review by Melanie
A little bit about me before I delve into this review. I don’t DNF books lightly. In fact, I do everything in my power to resist DNF’ing a book. Ironically, I advise people to DNF on the regular because life is too short to force yourself to read a book that isn’t working for you. But rarely do I ever take that advice for myself. Having said all that, I almost DNF’d this book. And it would have been the greatest book-related mistake of my life.
When Tara Met Farah is a delightful sapphic romance between the titular Tara, a 19 year old high school failure (her words, not mine) living in her parents basement and Farah, a 23 year old graduate student staying with Tara’s family for a few weeks. Told in dual POVs, the book switches from Tara to Farah from chapter to chapter. Tara’s chapters are told via 1st person and Farah’s are told via 3rd person. I will admit, when I started chapter 2, the switch in POV brought my reading to a screeching halt. I wasn’t sure what was happening. Why it was happening. But, like I mentioned, I do not DNF lightly and figured I would at least read a couple of more chapters to see if I could get into the story. Cue to me, a mere 24 hours later, hugging my iPad to my chest as I sobbed out all my feelings over this utterly fantastic book.
A few chapters into the book, I realized why Tara Pammi made the narrative choices she made with the 1st person vs. 3rd person POVs for each character. It was a brilliant device and really wonderfully illustrated the differences in each character and their distinct voices.
Tara, as mentioned before, is 19 and living in her parents basement. Her parents are two exceptionally intelligent people, her mom is a math professor and her father is a linguistics researcher. She has recently lost her grandmother and her grandfather has returned to India to visit family. Amidst all of these losses and life changes, she has also come out to her family and while her parents have been nothing but supportive, she has been ostracized by certain members of her family. To top it all off, she failed her math class which resulted in her not being able to graduate high school so while the world around her seems to be happily moving on without her, she’s stuck in her parent’s basement, trying to desperately pass a high school math class, finally graduate high school, and figure out the rest of her life.
Since her POV is told in the 1st person, it is very easy to get inside Tara’s head. She’s lost and struggling and has major confidence issues. She is convinced that she is unworthy of love and basically sees herself as a giant loser. She finds herself unable to open up to her mother, especially in light of her academic failures. Meanwhile, she’s also an amazing cook with her own YouTube channel where she posts videos of her cooking the recipes she learned from her grandmother. Listening to her explain her love of cooking and how it related to her cultural heritage was incredibly moving for me on a very personal level.
“A thread that connects my identity, our family and a region’s history even. Then I thought if I’m out there telling people how to cook authentic dishes that have morphed with each generation, it’s just as important to share the most authentic pieces of myself too. That I’ll add my own touch to the new because I exist at an intersection of identities. It’s unreal how food is tied to the past and the future.”
Tara’s love language is food. She shows her love through food and nurturing those she loves by feeding them. She is also extremely open and unguarded with her feelings. When she realizes that she will be sharing her basement living spaces with one of her mother’s graduate students for a few weeks, she’s initially bitter and resentful and annoyed at finding herself attracted to someone she finds way above her academically. After all, in her eyes, Farah is a math genius whereas she can’t even pass high school algebra.
If Tara is struggling to find her own place in this world, then Farah is just looking to hide away from the world altogether. After the devastating and unexpected loss of her beloved mother, Farah has spent the past fifteen months trying to not feeling anything and unable to engage with anyone or anything. Numb with grief, she follows her mother’s advice to come to America, to try and begin a relationship with her father and figure out her own life plan after months of being in stasis.
Farah’s grief is beautifully explored with great nuance and sensitivity. I would advise readers who have experienced grief due to parental loss to exercise some caution when it comes to this book. There is no shying away from Farah’s pain. It is a living, breathing thing.
It felt like she was finally crossing a bridge between her old life where Mama had played the central role and this new life – full of loss and pain but also courage.
She was not her old self anymore. But she was not her new self yet either. She was an unknown and for a girl who’d always thrived on knowing who she was, this not…knowing was the hardest part.
Farah’s POV is told in the 3rd person and at first, I was confused about the choice to do so until I got to know Farah. While it’s easy to slip into Tara’s 1st person POV and really get into her mindset, Farah’s 3rd person narrative takes on a somewhat more detached tone, as if both you, as the reader, and she is watching things unfold from some distance away. There’s almost a sense of passivity to her narrative which makes perfect sense because Farah, for the past 15 months, hasn’t really been living at all, has been nothing but a mere shadow of her former self.
It’s only when Farah meets Tara that she begins to let go of the numbness and really and truly starts to feel. Some of those feelings means she finally acknowledges the depth of her grief over losing her mother.
“Grief is such a strange thing, you know. Just when you think you have made peace with your loss, when you think you’re moving on, the universe hits you with one more thing.”
And some of those feelings are the attraction she feels for this young, spirited, bright eyed breath of fresh air. Tara allows Farah to return to the land of the living, to feel again, to find purpose again, and in Farah, Tara finds a champion, someone who refuses to allow her to think so little of herself. When Tara continually beats herself up, Farah simply shuts her down.
“You are the last person in the entire universe that title would ever apply to, Star Bells. So you have to promise me that you will never talk about yourself like that. Please,” she added at the end. It hurt her – literally twisted her stomach into a tight knot – to see even a little of Tara’s brightness dim. “You know, Mama used to say you are not capable of loving anything in this world if you do not love yourself first. For whoever you are. And if there is anything in this world that I know with a conviction, it is that you were made to love, to spread sunshine.”
Whew. Talk about romantic declarations! To be clear, the above passage is well before anything truly serious occurs between Tara and Farah. On page, it actually is a fast paced book but it doesn’t really feel that quick and definitely doesn’t feel like it’s instalove. There’s a sense of these two lost people circling each other, sizing each other up even while admitting there’s an intense attraction.
I should also add there are some truly excellent side characters in this book, starting with Tara’s parents who are just the absolute best. There’s also the the other members of Tara’s Bollywood Drama & Dance Society and since the book bills itself as the first in a series titled Bollywood Drama & Dance Society, I am hopeful we will get stories about the various members of this club.
If there’s a lesson to be learned from reading this book, it’s that I’m glad I didn’t throw in the towel too quickly, or else I would have missed out on a real treasure of a book. Both Tara and Farah moved me in very different ways and watching them stumble and dance their way into love was as warm and delicious as Tara’s home cooking.
Content warnings for off-page parental death and grief related to that, homophobia, and a slight mention of mental health rep.
Final Grade – A+