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In 'Tell Me How You Really Feel,' A Touching, TV-Inspired Love Story

The summer I sprained my ankle to within an inch of its life, I'd been in the middle of a Grey's Anatomy rewatch binge. The friend who took me to the ER was highly amused at the coincidence. He prompted me to spout some random medical jargon, but the only thing in my mind was "STAT!" Days later, when the pain fog had lifted from my brain, I laughed out loud at the memory. "STAT!" was what Paris Geller once yelled in a hospital during an episode of Gilmore Girls because she was distraught and couldn't think of anything else to say.

I mention this little anecdote because I want to make sure y'all understand: My familiarity with Gilmore Girls runs so deep that it actually permeates my subconscious. So when I found out that Tell Me How You Really Feel was Aminah Mae Safi's version of the infamous Rory Gilmore-Paris Geller ship, I couldn't get my hands on it fast enough.

It's no secret that this is the basic premise — Safi dedicates the novel to Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, with a clever quip that Rory "always had Paris." The setting is not small-town Stars Hollow, but Los Angeles. The novel is told in dueling POVs: that of immaculate cheerleader Sana Khan and that of rough-and-tumble film student Rachel Recht.

Sana is definitely the Rory of the piece, complete with insane work ethic, prestigious private school, rebellious mother, estranged father and well-to-do grandparents with their standing Sunday night dinners. Sana has been accepted to Princeton University, the school of her dreams. But she has also secretly applied for a medical fellowship halfway around the world. There's only a month left to turn in the deposit for Princeton, and the clock is ticking. And it's during this critical month that she runs afoul of her nemesis, Rachel, and ends up having to play the lead in Rachel's senior film project.

Rachel, our Paris, has a brusque voice and does not suffer fools. The book's sections in her voice are littered with profanity. And yet there is definitely a heart there, one that ultimately gets over itself enough to take part in a rather touching love story.

Safi does so well in portraying Sana and Rachel as analogues of the characters who inspired them that I was a little apprehensive at the beginning, but I didn't stay that way for long. Safi quickly digs down into these girls' minds and emotions, so much deeper than a television show ever could. Their characters are fleshed out with fully formed, logical backstories. Safi didn't need the world of Stars Hollow and all its residents; Sana and Rachel each have entire worlds inside them.

Now, please don't be frightened off by all my Gilmore Girls talk — you don't have to know the first thing about the show to enjoy this book. It is dense, wonderful and fulfilling — an enemies-to-lovers story that stands out all on its own. But if you, like me, find yourself randomly quoting lines from the show you didn't even know you knew, you will be able to appreciate Tell Me How You Really Feel on a completely different level. It was no small feat to write such a story, and I was impressed with how Safi rose to the challenge with near-flawless execution. I'm only sad there aren't a few more seasons of this book to watch now that I'm finished!

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alethea Kontis
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