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Review: Rana Joon and the One and Only Now by Shideh Etaat

Rana Joon and the One and Only Now by Shideh Etaat cover shows a girl in jeans and high tops sitting on the ground, holding a discman and listening to headphones.

Rana Joon and the One and Only Now
Shideh Etaat
Atheneum Books
Published July 25, 2023

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About Rana Joon and the One and Only Now

This lyrical coming-of-age novel for fans of Darius the Great Is Not Okay and On the Come Up, set in southern California in 1996, follows a teen who wants to honor her deceased friend’s legacy by entering a rap contest.

Perfect Iranian girls are straight-A students, always polite, and grow up to marry respectable Iranian boys. But it’s the San Fernando Valley in 1996, and Rana Joon is far from perfect—she smokes weed and loves Tupac, and she has a secret: she likes girls.

As if that weren’t enough, her best friend, Louie—the one who knew her secret and encouraged her to live in the moment—died almost a year ago, and she’s still having trouble processing her grief. To honor him, Rana enters the rap battle he dreamed of competing in, even though she’s terrified of public speaking.

But the clock is ticking. With the battle getting closer every day, she can’t decide whether to use one of Louie’s pieces or her own poetry, her family is coming apart, and she might even be falling in love. To get herself to the stage and fulfill her promise before her senior year ends, Rana will have to learn to speak her truth and live in the one and only now.

My Review

At first I wasn’t sure when this story was supposed to take place. Some of the words used felt more modern to me– for example, lots of characters say “ya” instead of “yeah,” which I thought didn’t start until later. But Rana does learn about Tupac’s death in one scene, which pretty firmly anchors the story in the past. There are some other clues, too, like her watching the show FRIENDS with her mom.

The writing, especially the poetry Rana and Louie write, is absolutely beautiful. I definitely got swept away by those lines and had to slow down to savor them as I was reading. I love the way Rana’s writing represents her journey through grief and acceptance of her identity.

Through the scenes in the book, Rana navigates changes in her relationships with her parents, both of whom seem distant for different reasons. I love the moment in the garden with her dad, and the scene where she finds her prom dress with her mom.

Rana also grapples with complicated grief as she nears the one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death and begins to realize that there were things she didn’t know about her friend, things he didn’t or couldn’t tell her.

All in all, the emotional arc of the book is so well-crafted. I cried through her moments of loss, but more than that, I felt Rana’s triumph as she discovered her voice and finally spoke up for herself.

I think fans of MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD by Robin Talley or YOU TRULY ASSUMED by Laila Sabreen should check out RANA JOON AND THE ONE AND ONLY NOW

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Rana is Iranian American and a lesbian. Her best friend and his twin brother are biracial.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl. Brief, graphic descriptions of sex between a boy and girl, references to sex, and brief, graphic descriptions of sex between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Rana’s friend had a tattoo of Buddha on his arm and followed a British philosopher. One of Rana’s friends is Muslim, and Rana identifies as Muslim to her dad.

Violent Content
Rana’s best friend died in a car accident. The accident is very briefly described. A boy torments Rana in class, and she slaps him in the face. One of Rana’s friends was expelled from school for fighting (before the story begins). The story briefly touches on Tupac’s death.

Drug Content
Rana and other characters smoke weed in several scenes. Teens drink alcohol in a couple scenes.

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