I just finished reading In a Perfect World, the new Trish Doller novel, and I have to tell you guys that I am officially obsessed with this book. It tells the story of Caroline Kelly, an Ohio teenager who’s suddenly forced to relocate to Cairo, Egypt the summer before senior year when her mother gets a dream job opening an eye clinic for the poor. Caroline is white and Catholic, and her small town in Ohio doesn’t have any Egyptians or Muslim people in it, so she has no idea what to expect in Egypt. But while there she meets, befriends, and starts to fall for Adam, the son of her family’s driver, who helps her adjust to Cairo and see it’s not so bad trying new things after all.
This book was seriously delightful and special, so I’ve decided to compile a list of reasons to read In a Perfect World. What are you waiting for? Check out my reasons and then check out this book (available as an extended excerpt until 6/18)! And once you read it, let me know what you think in the comments below!
1. It’s a realistic exploration of American ignorance
Often times in media, racism is portrayed as an obvious and clear evil. Racist people are exaggeratedly racist — they belong to hate groups, they sling slurs every minute, they’re open and loud and proud about their racism. In reality, racism is a lot more complex. While there are overt and loud racists, there are also more quiet and insidious examples of racism. Many people have racist beliefs that they don’t even recognize as racist because they’re so engrained into their mind, and into the beliefs of society. In a Perfect World’s main character, Caroline, isn’t racist on purpose, but she’s totally ignorant to Egyptian culture. Ignorance often leads to fear — her grandmother sends her off with clippings about suicide bombings and warnings about Islamic extremism. But when Caroline actually meets with and interacts with Egyptian people, she discovers they aren’t so different from her. In a world where debates about microaggressions and arguments about political correctness abound, it’s nice to see a book look at the ways in which ignorance leads to subtle racism and bigotry, even in people with good intentions. It’s a very realistic look at why we should aim to learn about other cultures instead of living inside our own bubbles.
I love a good romantic hero, and Adam is a great romantic hero. The son of the driver Caroline’s family hires to take them around Cairo, Adam is funny, sweet, and endearingly awkward. It’s easy to see what Caroline likes in him. He’s a fantastic character, and while the cultural and religious differences between them make his relationship with Caroline difficult, it’s hard not to root for the two of them.
3. It’s funny
Caroline narrates in first person, and she has a wry way of looking at the world that elevates the book. While books with a main, moral lesson can stray into overly-preachy territory, Caroline’s wit keeps everything feeling sharp and fresh. I laughed out loud more than once while reading — a vivid image of Caroline having an embarrassing sex talk with her grandmother in the bread aisle at Kroger was a favorite of mine, as is the description of her mother’s “Hulk Smash” face.
4. Adam’s (and eventually Caroline’s) other friends
All of the supporting characters in this book manage to be rounded and fun, even if some of them only show up for brief scenes or interactions. One of my favorites was Hasnah, the girlfriend of one of Adam’s best friends, who tells Caroline she’s studying politics in college in order to help Muslim women have a larger voice in society. I also adored Adam’s sister Aya, who asks Caroline if kissing is like it is in Nicholas Sparks books — and who, it turns out, made Adam watch all the Nicholas Sparks movies with her. Same, girl, same.
5. Adam and Caroline are both Hufflepuffs
Hufflepuff is the best house. And we’re severely underrepresented in stories. #GoBadgers.