Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know
By Samira Ahmed
What it’s about?
Told in alternating narratives that bridge centuries, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Samira Ahmed traces the lives of two young women fighting to write their own stories and escape the pressure of familial burdens and cultural expectations in worlds too long defined by men.
It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is at a crossroads. This holiday with her professor parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is probably ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.
Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron.
Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.
What I think:
This has been languishing on my Netgalley shelf for far too long. And I can not believe it took me long to get around to reading it. It was an absolutely fantastic read and I could not put it down.
Khayyam has a summer before college to spend in Paris. She has broken up with her boyfriend and failed to get the scholarship she wanted when her art history research was dismissed. Paris is an opportunity to heal and find a new direction.
There she meets Alexandre Dumas. A descendent of the iconic French writer, and the pair embark on a Parisian research/treasure hunt across the city to uncover the secrets of the Delacroix painting and the connection with Lord Byron.
This book is about giving a voice to the voiceless in history, particularly the women. Leila’s story has been told many time by men who have found fame and fortune off the back of it. Khayyam and Alexandre have an opportunity to change that.
Leila’s story is fascinating and I wish it had been more developed. There’s a lot that didn’t seem plausible – breaking into abandoned building that still contain documents written by famous writers seemed unlikely. But if you embrace the fun it doesn’t matter.
Khayyam does spend too much time moping over her ex who doesn’t seem all that special, but she is passionate about art and her connection with Leila is deep and genuine.
This is a really good YA novel. I really enjoyed it. Thank you to Netgalley for my gifted digital copy of Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know.