Monday, January 2, 2023

Q&A with Priyanka Taslim


Photo by Prithi Taslim



Priyanka Taslim is the author of the new young adult novel The Love Match. Also a teacher, she lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write The Love Match, and how did you create your character Zahra?


A: The very first nugget of inspiration for The Love Match was my visit to a local Pakistani tea shop. It unfortunately shut down during the pandemic, but the aesthetics and food made me want to write a book involving one.


Additionally, I really wanted to write something set in my hometown that celebrated its Bangladeshi diaspora and the liminal way that I grew up in this little pocket of Bangladesh in New Jersey. Other elements that I wanted to incorporate, such as meddling aunties and matchmaking shenanigans, all sort of fit together once those original concepts combined.


After everything came together and I knew I wanted to write a young adult romance novel, the next thing I asked myself was who I wanted to be centered in it, and that’s how Zahra came into being.


She embodies a lot of feelings that many oldest daughters of immigrant families often have, especially when they’re working class. There’s this great sense of responsibility, and normally, books with characters like that can feel heavy, especially when they’re characters of color.


I wanted to show that she can be the heroine of an epic, swoony, funny, and tropey romance novel that still feels grounded in her reality.


I often felt excluded from romances and the escapism that they offered, so I want readers who also don’t typically see themselves in main characters, or only see working class brown girls painted in a certain light, to be able to read The Love Match, resonate with it, and feel worthy of being the focus of books like it too.


Q: What do you see as the connection between your novel and Pride and Prejudice?


A: The Love Match is not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but I feel that it embodies much of the heart of Austen’s most popular work. Zahra is a whip-sharp heroine who is very observant about the people and social politics at play in the diaspora Bangladeshi community around her, just like Elizabeth Bennet is in Regency society.


Like the Bennets, the Khans are struggling financially. Zahra’s amma, who is as much of a busybody as Austen’s Mrs. Bennet, thinks a suitable match will solve all of their problems. Harun, the broody young man Zahra gets set up with, is what I feel a modern day, teenage Mr. Darcy might be like.


I think there are actually quite a few similarities between the social politics of the Regency era and what modern day South Asians still experience, especially during courtship, and that’s why there’s always been something Austenian about the book.


But because The Love Match is not a reimagining, there are plenty of twists and turns and wrenches thrown into the plot—for one, Harun has a rival for Zahra’s heart who is much more charming than manipulative Mr. Wickham or dull Mr. Collins—that I feel will be fresh and new for someone who enjoys Jane but still wants something surprising!


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: That is the fun—and daunting—part about writing a love triangle! I ended up re-plotting and even rewriting the book several times because I couldn’t settle on the ending—or which boy Zahra would ultimately choose, if either. This also required me to fine-tune pieces of the plot that skewed toward one boy too much or not enough so that the ending felt emotionally resonant.


Something else that I love about the book, however, and another element that’s a little similar to Pride and Prejudice, is that The Love Match is very much a family story. There is a relatively big cast for a YA romance novel.


You have Zahra’s entire meddling but loving family: her mother, her grandmother, her two younger siblings, this lingering love and grief felt toward her late father. Then you also have other characters like her three best friends, two of whom are the twin daughters of the gruff man who owns the tea shop where Zahra and eventually Nayim work.


There are also many minor characters from their local community, some of whom you see in interstitials where “The Auntie Network,” a collective of aunties in Paterson, are gossiping about the events of the story.


I had a blast writing all of these characters, but when you have a big cast, you have to make sure they all feel fleshed out and necessary. That took fine-tuning too, so the reviews that always bring me the most joy are the ones that comment positively on not just the romantic elements but the platonic threads in Zahra’s life!


Oh, and I had to make sure it was actually funny too, and that required rewriting lines, haha.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I mentioned it above a bit, but I hope books like The Love Match make more readers feel welcome in romance. If they ever, like me, thought there was no place for them in romance but they yearned for there to be, I hope this book can be one for them to escape into. Romance is growing more and more diverse and I want everyone to find belonging in the genre, if they want.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a few projects I’m working on. I have another young adult project coming after this one from Simon & Schuster, as well as an adult contemporary project.


Most of the things I work on tend to have Bengali protagonists, big quirky casts, complicated families, some romance and all the fun tropes therein, as well as some discussion of social issues, so I hope readers who enjoy The Love Match will like those as well!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think it’s very important to share that the book features a bearded dragon named Rabeardranath Tagore whom I’m very excited for readers to meet! If you want Jenny Han’s fake dating shenanigans and Jane Austen’s smart social politics, this book will be your cup of tea!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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