A Show for Two by Tashie Bhuiyan is a young adult contemporary romance about aspiring screenwriter Mina Rahman, whose deepest desire is to win the Golden Ivy student film competition that will all but guarantee her a way out of New York City. So when indie film star Emmitt Ramos enrolls at her school under a secret identity to research a role, Mina does whatever she can to have him star in her film. Emmitt is game — so long as she serves as his tour guide in the city. Inspired by Bhuiyan’s real-life experiences when Tom Holland enrolled at her school under similar circumstances, this long-awaited novel doesn’t disappoint!
Much like Bhuiyan’s debut, Counting Down with You, this novel features a Bangladeshi-American protagonist grappling with relatable and decidedly American coming-of-age milestones involving friends, love lives, and decisions about the future. Mina’s South Asian parents have worked hard to provide her with a plethora of wonderful opportunities, but Mina’s ambitions simply don’t align with her parents’ expectations. It results in a deeply fraught relationship with her parents, and watching Mina (and her younger sister) struggle with it was both distressing and cathartic for me. Growing up in a diaspora community presents so many unique challenges that mainstream media absolutely fails to address at this time, so it was incredibly validating to read about a character with complicated, messy feelings that also fail to align with most depictions of young adult stories but are no less valid.
As much as this novel is about Mina and Emmitt falling for each other, I would argue the true romance is between Mina and New York City. She’s desperate to get away from the familial conflict and generational trauma she deals with on a daily basis, so she incorrectly holds her beloved city — “the city that loved me, even when I didn’t love it” — responsible for her grief. But seeing the five boroughs through Emmitt’s eyes reminds her how New York City has helped to nurture and grow her when other influences in her life have failed to measure up.
My favorite aspect of this novel is how Mina’s forced to grapple with the fact that her experiences aren’t the same as her immigrant parents’, and they really aren’t comparable to her friends’ either. Her relationship fumbles are especially frustrating for readers due to her struggle to choose a side, so to speak. She isn’t American enough, nor is she Bangladeshi enough, and she feels judgement from both sides for attempting to walk the hazy line blurring the two defining cultures in her life. However, she leads a hybrid existence created where two cultures converged to form something new, and — as she slowly learns — something uniquely hers. Once she accepts that as her power, she’s able to redefine her dreams in relation to her own hopes and values. It liberates her from many perceived familial and societal expectations that confine her character growth for much of the novel.
I also enjoyed watching Mina and Emmitt be passionate about their artistic pursuits, and I appreciated that Bhuiyan placed value in the arts as both hobby and career — a distinction often mistakenly presented as a dichotomy.
Initially, it was difficult for me to like Mina, but upon reflection, I think it’s because I saw way too much of my own teenage self in her! Counting Down with You is much easier to read because it takes place while Katrina’s parents are out of the country. It’s a monthlong, borderline fantasy experience that is as charming and light as it is largely because Katrina deals with familial and cultural issues through internal monologues instead of difficult conversations and experiences with her own family in real-time. And that’s really what makes A Show for Two such a beautiful journey of self-discovery. It validates the most challenging experiences and allows us to watch Mina find beauty and power in her own circumstances.
A Show for Two is a heartwarming and bittersweet read that represents a unique perspective on familiar growing pains. It will soothe your inner child and remind you to be proud of the experiences that have helped to shape you into the person you are today.
Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for sharing an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.