The Authentics

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Heartwarming story of teen's search for her true identity.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The Authentics introduces readers to Muslim characters they may not have encountered before. They are from families that left Iran after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah and often identify themselves as Persian to distance themselves from the current regime in Tehran. They're Muslim but not religious: Women and girls do not dress modestly or wear hijabs, and they have friends and family members who are gay. A visit by Daria's aunt offers insight into the life of someone who chose to stay in Iran.

Positive Messages

Who you are as a person is not defined by labels like "Persian," "Mexican," or even "American."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Daria and her friends made what's a really tough choice for many teens: deciding to be who they are rather than what others want or expect them to be. The Authentics don't need to be the most popular kids in school; they want to be the "realest."  

Violence

Two violent deaths from the past are mentioned but not described: Daria's grandfather was executed by ayatollahs in Iran and Rico's mother was killed by gang members.

Sex

A few kisses.

Language

Infrequent use of "pissed," "sucks," "crap," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "Jesus" (used as an exclamation).

Consumerism

It's teens living in Beverly Hills, so lots of talk about upscale brands like Chanel, Barney's, and BMW. Mention of movies Saturday Night FeverThe Da Vinci Code, and The Hunger Games; TV shows that run the gamut from Hoarders and Seinfeld to The Shahs of Sunset; and singers from Kanye West to a fictionalized Iranian female rapper.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink on a few occasions, and Daria tries one drink. A minor character smokes a joint and another teen smokes once.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Abdi Nazemian's The Authentics is the story of 15-year-old Iranian-American Daria Esfandyar, who lives in Los Angeles surrounded by a loving group of Persian, Chinese, Nigerian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, gay, and straight friends and family. She attends Beverly Hills High School, where she and her best friends have dubbed themselves "The Authentics" as a counterpoint to "The Nose Jobs," a Persian clique led by Daria's former best friend. When a school project sends Daria in search of her family history, she discovers a long buried secret: She's adopted, and her birth mother is Mexican-American. As she confronts this new reality, she meets her birth mother, finds an unlikely romance, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she tries to embrace her newfound heritage without losing the authentic Daria. There are a few kisses and some strong language ("pissed," "sucks," "crap," "s--t," "bulls--t"). This is Nazemian's first YA novel. His adult novel, The Walk-In Closet, won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Debut Fiction.

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What's the story?

As THE AUTHENTICS begins, the biggest problem in Daria's life (other than acne and frizzy hair) is reining in her mother's plans for the seriously over-the-top Sweet 16 party that Daria absolutely does not want. She'd hoped her mother might be distracted by the upcoming arrival of the first child of her brother Amir and his Chinese husband, but that's not happening. Happily, things at Beverly Hills High School are going better for Daria. She's found a small group of diverse friends -- Kurt (white American), Joy (Nigerian-American), and Caroline (gay) -- who call themselves "The Authentics" and support one another in their determination to be their true selves rather than someone others expect them to be. While researching a school assignment on family history, she takes a DNA test and is shocked to discover that instead of being 100 percent Middle Eastern, she's half-Mexican. Some snooping in the family lawyer's office uncovers an adoption contract and her birth mother's name. It's not long before she tracks down her address and is met at the door by her birth mother's stepson, a cute tattooed artist named Rico. Now things get really complicated, as Daria confronts her parents, meets her birth mother, has a date with Rico, becomes an aunt, and has to make some hard decisions about her true identity.

Is it any good?

This smart, funny, and heartwarming story of an Iranian-American teen's search for her true identity shatters many stereotypes about Muslim teens and families. Daria's world in The Authentics is overflowing with friends and family who come from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, and with a few exceptions, they all get along. At times, all this goodwill seems a bit too idyllic. But readers may be inspired by the story to reach out and make a friend of someone who's not at all like them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Daria's multicultural world is portrayed in The Authentics. Do you think that the way characters related to one another was authentic, or do you believe this could only happen in a fictional world?

  • If Daria were a real student at your school, how would news about her adoption have played out on social media? Would she have been supported?

  • How would your friends react if they suddenly found out you were from a different ethnic background? Do you think there are ethnic backgrounds that might make them see you differently?

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