Tuesday 17 May 2022

The Cult of Romance

The Cult of Romance by Sarah Ayoub (Harper Collins) ISBN 9781460758946 RRP $19.99 PB

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This young-adult story is about Natalie, who is blindsided when her best friend Janet returns from a trip to Lebanon, engaged to a guy she met there. Natalie has long been sceptical about marriage and love (views she thought her friend shared). She is thrown into the job of bridesmaid, travelling to Lebanon to help organise a wedding she disapproves of. Will she be able to keep her friendship if she tells Janet how she really feels about the wedding? The good-looking best man George, who has a tendency to mansplain, and Natalie’s grandmother, who constantly tells her to behave like a ‘good Lebanese girl’, only make things more complicated.

As we read on, we discover Natalie’s reasons for being so against the idea of love. Her mother left when she was young for uncertain reasons. A university student, Natalie is determined to make her own way in life, and she wants that for her friend as well. Natalie finds it confronting to go to Lebanon, when she has never been there before, but so much of the culture is part of her. She doesn’t really know where she belongs. Natalie’s friends Mark, with an Iraqi background and Thi, with a Vietnamese background, also have their own issues with identity and sexuality, which are explored in the story

The dialogue between the friends is quite believable and the slow-developing romance between Natalie and George works well. The descriptions of locations in Lebanon, in Beirut and the surrounding countryside are great, along with the cultural traditions for weddings and delicious-sounding food. The backstory about Natalie’s mother and what happens when she finally meets her, also adds another dimension to the book.

The Cult of Romance is a romantic comedy with diverse characters and plenty of wedding drama. It’s suitable for older YA readers.

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