Middle South

by Maya Nessouli Abboushi
Lanier Press

"What did that say about me? That I was easily dazzled by bright and shiny objects? I guess I still had a little growing up to do."

All the ingredients for funny are in this book: charming, twenty-something besties, insecurity, alcohol, homosexuality, serial dating, a search for love, and starter jobs. Abboushi, a Lebanese American living in Atlanta, blends these ingredients into a successful comedy for the main character, Layla. Her character unfolds beautifully and quickly. By page one, we know she has an overprotective Lebanese mother who constantly searches for “a nice Arab boy.” By page two, we know Layla is funny: Her ideal man would avoid heroin, not beat her, and be relatively normal. By page three, we know Layla is kind when she buys groceries to preserve her roommate’s “self-proclaimed feminist persona.” And by page seven, we know her intimate circle of friends (gay, macho, and Arab) provide an excellent foil for her wonderful, quirky self: a savvy, smart, loyal and kind woman, who pens senior citizen dance-off features and pumpkin-catapulting contests for a county newspaper while searching for a man who can share her cultural background but also embrace American ambitions.

Layla’s search for love in Atlanta, supported by likeable friends and family, drives the plot in a Friends-TV-show type of way. But what makes the book really interesting is the organically sneaked in history lessons about Lebanon’s civil war and its ominous Syrian presence. Also fascinating are the cultural differences between American and Lebanese parenting (think Jewish mother) and the dynamics of Arab-on-Arab friendships. A highlight is Layla’s visit to Beirut, right after a bombing, where wheelbarrow vendors and beggars contrast with bejeweled women at beach clubs with waterfalls.

Layla stumbles delightfully toward adulthood through a series of embarrassing, alcohol-fueled moments, saved by her quirky sense of humor and propelled by the ambiguous burden of being a virgin. Her journey rides to a satisfying conclusion that highlights Arab-American differences and harmonies.

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