Review: ‘What We Deserve’ by Alyssa Nohar

Why do all of these books make it seem like making friends was the easiest thing in the world, and why did they all assume that everyone already had friends?


4/5 stars

What’s This Book About?

Genre: YA contemporary coming-of-age


Finally diagnosed with social and generalized anxiety disorder after years of silent suffering, Amaya spent twelfth grade going to therapy, adjusting to new medication and trying to get herself together, all while keeping her grades up. Amaya figured that she’d at least enjoy a peaceful summer before university. 

Unfortunately for Amaya, she is wrong about most things.

After her sister signs her up for an internship alongside four other high school graduates, Amaya is forced into two months of socializing and trying her hardest not to act like the most awkward person alive. 

Amaya Bhatt thinks that she is about to have the worst summer ever.

Fortunately for her, she is wrong about most things.

What I Thought:

This book was a sweet, honest and uplifting contemporary with excellent mental health rep, queer POC characters and features an adorkable friendship group.

This own-voices book speaks on the incredibly important issue of mental health, specifically anxiety and depression, and I liked that ‘What We Deserve’ spotlights the path to recovery, of hope and resilience and growth. Watching Amaya start to come out of her shell was lovely, and there were plenty of really insightful lines that I personally found very helpful.

[J]ust because I feel nervous does not mean that something bad is going to happen.
I don’t know if I have social anxiety – I’ve never been diagnosed nor been to a doctor about it – but so much of what Amaya describes and experiences is unexpectedly and profoundly relatable.

“I don’t have my shit together either. In fact, I’m kind of a complete train wreck. But the important thing is that regardless of how shitty I feel sometimes, I keep going anyway. I keep trying to be better because I know that nothing will ever change if I don’t. You shouldn’t feel inferior just because you’re a bit of a mess. So long as you’re figuring out where to go from here and how to be better, you’re really doing all you can.”

This is primarily a character-driven novel rather than one bursting with plot twists and cliffhangers, but I was never bored. I always say – make me care about your character and I will happily read about even their most quotidian activities! That’s not to say that Amaya’s story is dull – I really enjoyed her sister-dynamic with Sonam, the utterly natural and energetic banter between her friends (Fai, Gen, Jev and Kaidan) and there were plenty of laughs too. I absolutely adored the friendship group in this, and I was strongly reminded of my own friends from uni and the way we tease each other!

“We don’t have to have fought in a war together to be friends[,] Amaya.”
It was also really nice to get occasional peeks into the secondary characters’ heads in the form of small POV chapters, usually after they’ve had a meaningful scene with Amaya that shows her that they’re just normal people with a whole host of their own problems, who she doesn’t need to fear. Through the advice Amaya gives her new friends, Nohar perfectly illustrates how sometimes we can easily give out truth and comfort to other people but can’t seem (or refuse) to hear it ourselves!
“I think what’s sad is spending your whole life worrying about being forgotten only to realize that you didn’t even get the chance to make an impact because you couldn’t get over the concept of your own mortality.

Amaya’s gradual increase in confidence and self-worth (we find out more about why she has self-esteem and trust issues later on) was paralleled by a really interesting metanarrative concept where Amaya is herself reading a YA contemporary novel about a character (Aubrey) who battles with overwhelming shyness. A nice touch that served as occasional landmarks (whenever Aubrey was mentioned) of where Amaya’s current stage of development was at.

I also enjoyed how casually diverse this novel is – though sometimes I did forget that Jev and Gen weren’t white and I felt like I wanted to see more of their culture shine through in their chapters and interactions with Amaya. It’s tricky to balance – you want to show multiple ethnicities, but not become so heavy handed that it feels like you’re shoehorning in ‘dIvErSitY’ for the sake of it. I did love the way one of the characters’ aromantic orientation is introduced; I thought it came at the perfect moment in the story! However, another scene revealing the main character’s bisexuality was a little confusing in how it felt oddly open for someone so shy and self-conscious (and this was somewhat on the early side of Amaya’s development) and also in how it segued into the next important scene.

At times, I noticed some sporadic typos, places where commas could’ve helped (nothing that a spot of editing can’t fix, though) and some long, introspective passages that leant a little too far towards ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. There were also a couple of phrases that I wasn’t sure were the best choice, such as Amaya’s sentiment that probably every person on Earth had a “toxic and awful family”, which a) is not true (though this could be chalked up to her naïveté) and b) doesn’t make sense, as Amaya already knew by this point about Kaidan’s wonderful family. However, these observations are all minor quibbles.

The last chapter was especially nice to read, framed as it is around love both platonic and romantic – and there were so many quotable moments from that chapter alone! This is one of my favourites:

“I always thought that there had to be a checklist or something, like I’d have to like certain things about a person in order to know that I was in love, but now I realize that it’s not like that at all. I know that I love Peter because I feel it…Like sure, I can list all of the things that I like about him and I can talk about how sweet he is to me, but I can’t tell you how all of that makes me feel, do you know what I mean?”
I kinda didn’t want the chapter to finish (though it did end a little abruptly), but as Kaidan has taught us:
[T]he story isn’t over just because we can’t read any more of it…Maybe there’s a paved walkway or a lit-up gazebo just out of frame that we don’t know about. Does that mean that it doesn’t exist?

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review.

This was my book for #MagicalReadathon2020’s ‘Muggle Studies’!

Thanks for reading! Have you read ‘What We Deserve’ or is it on your TBR? (I recommend!) Let me know in the comments below…

2 thoughts on “Review: ‘What We Deserve’ by Alyssa Nohar

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