A Show for Two by Tashie Bhuiyan
May 10, 2022, by Inkyard Press
Review by Melanie
I don’t read a whole lot of YA but Tashia Bhuiyan’s voice really speaks to me and she is quickly becoming an auto-read author for me. I adored her debut, Counting Down with You (you can read my review here), and this book, while dealing with topics that seem a bit heavier than the previous book, is also delightful and romantic.
As Tashie explains in her author’s note at the end of the book, the book’s premise is inspired by something in her own life – when she was in high school, the actor Tom Holland, went undercover as a student in her high school to prepare for his role in Spider-Man. And so, the book begins with film buff Samina (Mina to her friends) running into indie film star Emmitt Ramos on her way home from school. It’s hardly the stuff of a meet-cute – it’s raining outside, Mina can’t quite place who he is and he thinks she purposely bumped into him so that she could find a way to meet him. Needless to say, neither one makes a very good impression on the other.
Mina, meanwhile, is desperately trying to get into USC Film School and in order to do that, she, as co-president of her school’s film club, needs to win the student film competition her club is entering. The best way to do that – find a big-name actor and convince them to make a cameo in the film. I don’t need to spell it out for you where this book is headed – surely, you’ve figured it out by now. Mina needs Emmitt to help make her film a winning success and Emmitt in turn decides if he’s going to do Mina a huge favor, it’s going to come at a price. His request is that Mina acts as his tour guide around NYC because he wants to win a photography competition, kind of as a way to honor his late father.
A lot of the book is Mina leading Emmitt around NYC but a fair amount of the book is also about Mina’s home life and her relationship with her parents, her sister, and her best friend. One of the hardest things about reading this book was the utterly toxic relationship Mina has with her parents. It was truly difficult to read some of their interactions – painful and heartbreaking. It is no surprise that Mina has her heart set on getting away from her parents and NYC and desperately wants to move all the way to California for college. To that end, she’s driven, almost to the point of obsession, about winning this film competition because she feels that’s her only ticket out of New York and away from her emotionally harmful parents.
Mina’s relationship with her sister is strong. They are only a year apart and they both watch out for each other and defend each other and protect each other from their parents. However, you can see the seeds of disharmony as Mina begins to focus on the film competition to the exclusion of nearly everything else, making her sister feel like she’s being left behind and abandoned by the only person in her family who truly seems to care about her.
There is also an excellent best friendship in this book. Rosie is Mina’s best friend and co-president of the film club. And she too takes Mina to task for being so consumed by winning this film competition that she forgets about friendships and feelings. It’s a tough scene when the two of them finally have their dark moment and beautifully captures the emotion of friendships at that age when everything seems monumental and terrible, every misunderstanding feels like the absolute end of the world.
Mina, along with having a difficult family life, also suffers from depression and I’m glad the book mentions that she will seek counseling for it. I wish more had been said on that particular topic because the scenes where Mina is struggling with depression do make it clear that she absolutely needs therapy. And it’s yet another thing that her parents fail her on, dismissing her fears and dreams and feelings at every turn.
Essentially, this book is about home and what it means to you. Mina’s understanding of home is so distorted that she feels she has to run to the opposite side of the country to find peace and make a new home. Ultimately, it’s her relationships with her sister and Rosie and her growing feelings for Emmitt that help her realize that home isn’t just a place, it’s the people you love.
In short, I adored this book as much as I adored Tashie Bhuiyan’s first book. I loved the characters, that they are so flawed and realistically portrayed, teenagers on the brink of college and independence, trying to find their place in this world, a place where they can belong, a place where they can call home.
Content warnings: depression, toxic parental relationships, off page parental death