TJ Powar Has Something to Prove
– Jesmeen Kaur Deo –
Viking Books for Young Readers
Published 7 June 2022
Brilliant, just brilliant. This book has the perfect mix of super cute romance, powerful societal issues commentary, friendship, family and self identity discovery that makes it the sort of YA realistic fiction I just adore. Add a touch of sport and I was all in on this fantastic story.
TJ Powar is a soccer star, debater and one of the pretty, popular girls at school. And she works hard to maintain that status. Soccer practice, debate practice and a rigorous hair waxing, trimming and beauty routine. When a photo of TJ and her cousin and debate partner Simran becomes a meme comparing beauty standards, TJ is shocked. So if she doesn’t strip the hair from her body like her cousin, does that mean she isn’t beautiful? She sets out to prove this to herself and the world by stopping her hair removal routine. It challenges all her relationships, from her boyfriend and best friends to her mother and even the relationship she has with herself and her acceptance of herself.
What is beauty? How do we think of ourselves as beautiful if the world disagrees? Such a powerful message for our teens (and, let’s face it, adults) to read. TJ is the perfect narrator to take us through an exploration of this and the world of high school, debating, sport, Punjabi family culture are the perfect setting and backdrop for this story.
The romance. I think my favourite part of books is so often the romance and I truly loved the romance in this book. While TJ starts the story with a boyfriend, it’s no spoiler to say it’s obvious it isn’t going to last long. He might seem sweet and cute but he has some serious character flaws. On the other hand we have Charlie. TJ’s debate nemesis and the person she is constantly arguing with, and that right there should tell you something readers. As TJ works through her own feelings about her body, beauty and what other people think about her, she also has to work out her feelings for Charlie, his feelings for her and how it’s all complicated and why does she randomly kiss him!? He’s pretty open about his feelings for TJ but in the midst of everything else going on, TJ doesn’t believe him! It’s sexy and sweet and the sections where they really open up and share with each other and the parts where you as the reader can guess what Charlie is feeling but TJ totally miss-reads him are so sweet, but not in a saccharine way, just a really genuine and genuinely enjoyable way.
Relationships are a big theme in this book. When TJ stops removing the hair on her body, her relationships all change or are challenged in some way. Through this, TJ learns to open up more, to be honest and to understand where the other people are coming from, and it’s not always what she assumes. Sometimes she has to call people on their behaviour and sometimes she needs those closest to her to tell her when she’s being stupid. She grows a lot, as do most of the characters in the story.
A fun, powerful and, yes, beautiful, utterly beautiful story. Loved it.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction
Genre: Realistic fiction.
Themes: Body image, body hair, romance, friendship, family, family expectations, debating, high school, beauty.
Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.
Advisory: Sexual references, references to sexual relationships, pubic hair. Coarse language, f*** (2), sh** (27), bi*** (11), pi** (12), di** (6). Body shaming around body hair.
Representation: Punjabi main characters, white main characters, trans character. Heterosexual main characters and relationships.
Published: 7 June 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers.
Format: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook. 304 pages.