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Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

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Accidentally Engaged

by Farah Heron
March 2, 2021 · Forever

CW/TW: brief discussions of unidentified eating disorders and depression

I cannot emphasize enough how hungry this book will make you.

Accidentally Engaged might be my top pick for “don’t read while hungry.” Between our heroine Reena’s bread baking (there’s rye, there’s challah, there’s an ongoing battle with a sourdough starter) and her Indian and East African cooking, I was craving a feast pretty much the whole time I was reading this book. Reena is a supremely talented amateur baker and former food blogger whose career in finance doesn’t quite fulfill her cookbook and bakery dreams.

It also isn’t keeping her family off her back or out of her business. Reena’s job is precarious, her sister seems to be living Reena’s dreams and won’t shut up about it, and her parents have set her up with another potential fiance. One that has moved in across the hall. Even with Reena’s dad as his new boss, the very handsome and charming Nadim doesn’t seem overly invested in marrying Reena. More than anything he’s interested in the incredible bread that Reena makes.

Nadim is repeatedly described as Indian Captain America with a British accent which I know is going to delight the imagination of many readers. He grew up separated from his family most of the time and takes a lot of comfort in the way that being around Reena just feels like home. His relationship with Reena develops in moments that feel so adorably normal: from drinking together after a shared shitty work day to babysitting Reena’s sourdough starter when she goes away for a weekend (a very serious sign of trust).

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Also, Nadim likes feet. He finds them really beautiful and guess what? Reena has beautiful feet! A match made in heaven, my friends! This detail made me like him even more.

Their proximity (and Nadim’s obsession with Reena’s baking and cooking talents) bring them together time and again, an easy friendship forming. Reena and Nadim bond over their shared Indian and East African culture (their families both immigrated from India to Tanzania a few generations ago, with Reena’s parents then going to Toronto) and their love of good food. They are such a pleasure to watch fall in love because their conversations are the perfect balance of playful ribbing and happy discovery of each other. They are easy and comfortable with each other, even as it becomes clear that Nadim has a past he’d rather her not know about.

They become so close that one night, after too many drinks, Reena asks Nadim to pretend to be her fiance for a cooking competition where the public votes on a series of home recorded cooking videos to pick who will receive a tv cooking special and a scholarship to attend a cooking school Reena has always dreamed of taking classes at. The only catch: they’re looking for family pairs.

So for the competition, they’ll be engaged. But their undeniable chemistry starts to trickle into an actual relationship and pretending to be engaged starts to make Reena ache a little and something from Nadim’s past starts to weigh a little heavier on both Reena and her father, who wants Reena to find out Nadim’s secrets. Sounds simple.

Once Reena and Nadim were together the book started to slow (this is about half-way through) as Reena’s storyline became more focused on her job hunt while her relationship with Nadim became something that was just kinda going on in the semi-background. Much of what happens in this section becomes helpful in the end as the book wraps up, but until you know what use it serves, it does drag a bit.

Accidentally Engaged also does an excellent job at sprinkling in just enough hints about Nadim’s secret past, answering just enough questions as the book unfolds, that when it reached its climax I found myself genuinely surprised.

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That thing Nadim is hiding? He’s engaged. Well, he was. He was engaged to the daughter of Reena’s father’s rival, though their engagement ended in the month’s before Nadim came to Canada and met Reena. When Reena first finds out, the timeline of the engagement is incredibly murky and it only becomes clear after Reena is repeatedly encouraged to talk to Nadim by her sister and brother.

Reena grows so much throughout this book that it’s difficult to get it all into one review, but of particular note is her how her relationship to her family and culture develop throughout the novel. Reena loves being Tanzanian and Indian, but rejects what she sees as her parents’ over-involvement in her life and the idea that they are capable of finding a husband for her. Throughout the novel she has to learn that there is a place between being a doormat versus completely pushing her family away without trying to understand them or explaining herself to them.

For a lot of us, there comes a moment where you look around and realize that everyone in your family is as much of a full person as you are. They are not, in Reena’s case, just the little sister whose obsession with healthy eating indirectly caused Reena to lose a possible book deal. It can be a hard adjustment, realizing that you have never tried to know your sister, that your defensiveness means you have never tried to let your parents know you, that your Muslim mom has a secret poker club (it’s fine! The money goes to charity!).

Accidentally Engaged is as much about this journey for Reena as it is about her falling in love with Nadim and I think it is one of the book’s strongest through lines. Reena’s parents are pushy about jobs and marriage, but they wanted her to know she has her family’s support. Her sister Saira is judgemental and health-food obsessed in a way I’m not sure the novel ever fully reconciles, but she is never irredeemable.

I think some people might believe the ending of Accidentally Engaged is too tidy, with the novel’s many threads finding their way into picture perfect bows in the final scene. There are some days that I might agree with them. But right now I’d like to believe that sometimes the ending does get to be as smooth as it is in Accidentally Engaged.

Best-case-scenario is not impossible-case-scenario and Accidentally Engaged has an optimism that I couldn’t help but carry with me past the end of the book.

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