Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Book review by
Nayanika Kapoor, Common Sense Media
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Charming story mixes art history and teen romance in Paris.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of information about art history, poetry, and art. Good introduction to Indian and French culture: phrases of French throughout the novel. Explains colonial history, racism, and sexism in a manageable way. 

Positive Messages

It is important to tell the stories of those who have been silenced, including your own. You define your own identity: no one else gets to tell you who you are. Follow your dreams and pursue your passions, no matter who tells you that you can't. Stand up for yourself and what you believe in. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Khayyam is passionate, independent and has a strong sense of self. She has high academic ambitions and thinks about her values and her moral compass. She can be a little boy-crazy sometimes, but she never lets that get in the way of who and what she believes in. She's very well-read and intellectually curious about art, history, and poetry. She has a good relationship with her parents, although she does lie to them from time to time, with no consequences. She breaks into building a few times with no consequences. Some of the other characters make questionable decisions, from smoking weed to being careless in their relationships, but Khayyam stays away from this. Khayyam is biracial, and the daughter of two immigrants. 

Violence

The historical story of Leila that plays out in parallel to the main story has references to lashing, being tied up, and being forcibly kissed. She is part of a harem, non-consensually, and there are references to her being the "chosen one," having non-consensual sexual implications. Reference to Leila being drowned in a tied up sack. 

Sex

Graphic depictions of kissing, but characters don't go further than that. Several vivid descriptions of making out. Alludes to sex, but doesn't explicitly talk about it. Mention of pornography. Secondary character is part of a harem. Mentions how French people are more forward about sex and nudity. Reference to the fetishization of Muslim women. 

Language

Occasional use of "damn," "s--t," "boob," "hell," "dammit," "crap," "a--hole", "crappy." 

Consumerism

Khayyam posts on Instagram to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some of the characters smoke marijuana -- described as "majoring in smoking pot." References to "hash" that ancient artists and poets would smoke to get hallucinogenic visions. Wine is mentioned in the old poetry, but the characters do not drink. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Samira Ahmed's Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, is a story about 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet, solving an art history mystery in Paris while also solving the mysteries of her own love life. Half-Indian, half-French Khayyam has a passion for art, and wants to uncover a story that she knows is out there -- and a very cute boy might just be at her side while she's doing it. There are graphic depictions of kissing and mild swearing throughout, including "s--t" and "a--hole," and mentions of smoking marijuana, but the main character herself does not smoke. 

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What's the story?

In MAD, BAD AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW, Khayyam Maquet is in Paris with a broken heart and still reeling from humiliation at an art history competition that was supposed to be the golden key to her dreams. When she runs into a boy that might just have the answers to solve the art history mystery of her dreams -- and who happens to be very cute -- it seems like the summer might just turn around. She and Alexandre embark on a summer of discovery, adventure, history and heartbreak, exploring Paris' nooks and crannies, while learning about the complicated history of art and the oppression in the untold stories of women. This summer is full of surprises, some good and some bad, teaching her how to stand up for herself, her voice and her story. 

Is it any good?

This endearing story is well-written and  impeccably weaves history into Khayyam's coming-of-age. Khayyam is a strong but vulnerable character, and teens will relate to a lot of the internal conflict that she deals with -- about her goals, romantic relationships, and her own identity. This novel deals with colonialism, sexism, and racism, especially the historical roots, in a very approachable way, and readers will learn how important these topics are in understanding history. Readers will also get a realistic glimpse into French and Indian culture, and how they inform Khayyam's life as a child of immigrants. 

The romantic relationships in Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know will keep readers entertained. Will she choose the cute, easy option, or will she try and make it work with a boy she has her own history with? While the love stories are charming and engaging, they don't overwhelm the story, and the positive messages are clear and meaningful. Socially aware teens will see a lot of the same questions that they ask themselves, and relate to her struggles. The art history can be dense at times, for those unfamiliar with the context, but readers will learn a lot from the stories of Dumas, Delacroix and Leila. 

 

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Khayyam, who's bi-racial, often feels stuck between many different identities. How are the identities in your own life sometimes conflicting? Have you ever felt like you are not enough of one identity, like Khayyam talks about? 

  • Why do you think the stories and voices of women are often overshadowed, especially in history? Why do you think it's so important to Khayyam to tell Leila's story? What's the importance of owning and telling your own story? 

  • Do you ever feel discouraged by your goals like Khayyam does at the beginning? What goals and passions do you have, and how do you think you can get where you want to go?

Book details

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For kids who love art and coming-of-age stories

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