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.
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Khayyam Maquet (named after the Persian poet Omar Khayyam) has suffered several major disappointments in her young life. What she thought was a brilliantly thought out plan to reveal an unknown facet of art history as an early entry essay into the college of her choice ended with a big fizzle. Adding insult to injury, her “boyfriend” is now her ex. When she arrives with her parents to Paris only to find that her “ex-boyfriend” is back in Chicago living it up with numerous other girls. Could this summer get any worse?! Never ask that question of God or fate, because a presumably chance encounter with the descendant of Alexandre Dumas named, appropriately enough, Alexandre Dumas runs into Khayyam and a flirtation ensues. Their flirtation sparks an investigation that just might reveal the final clue revealed by Alexandre’s ancestor all those year’s ago, “find the woman, find the treasure.” Is it possible that Khayyam might be getting her art history entrance do-over after all? Is this search and budding romance all just a little too good to be true? Should she tell Alexandre about Zaid? Just when it seems as if things are getting better in Khayyam’s life, Zaid shows up in Paris and things really heat up. Khayyam must decide just where she stands, not only with Zaid but also with Alexandre. She must also decide if she puts herself first before boys. As Khayyam questions herself and the men in her life, she begins to question the goals of this quest and just who it will benefit and why? Does this Muslim woman’s story need to be told? Is uncovering the truth of this “hidden figure” for more than two centuries truly beneficial to history or just beneficial financially and academically?
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is the second book by Samira Ahmed that I’ve read and folks, I can’t believe I have to say this to you, but WOW! Although this book is classified as a “Young Adult” book, please don’t let that dissuade from you reading it. This was simply an amazing read that I read from cover to cover in one afternoon. I loved the characters of Khayyam and Alexandre (twenty-first century Alexandre), as well as that of Leila and the historical background of Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Byron (yes, that Byron). This is a story-within-a-story and the historical story is that of nineteenth-century orphan and former concubine, Leila. All of the historical clues interspersed throughout the story point to this mysterious lady and our intrepid young adults are out to “cherchez la femme.” I enjoyed Khayyam’s awkwardness and presumed inability to flirt with Alexandre. Although they were both speaking the “same language” they quite often misunderstood one another due to cultural references the other never quite understood. This story includes a lot of different elements such as the historical story, teen angst and drama, hints of romance, mystery, family intrigue, family drama, and more. I wish I could reveal the more but if I did, it might spoil the plot and you might not want to read the book and trust me you should read this book! Yes, I enjoyed reading Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know and it’s one that I wholeheartedly recommend to young adults and those just seeking a darn good read. I’m going to be contacting my diva twin nieces (they just turned 13 y’all) and telling them to add this to their TBR lists (okay, I’m contacting their mother so she can order the book for them…same difference).
Happy Reading, y’all!
Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”