Iman Sultan in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
SAMIRA AHMED’S young adult novel Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know evokes the mysterious woman at the center of Lord Byron’s 1813 poem The Giaour. Leila is the favored concubine in the court of a Turkish pasha who falls in love with the Giaour (or “infidel”), a non-Muslim man she visits in a rose garden at night. As Leila plots her doomed escape, Ahmed gives Byron’s Orientalized woman a narrative, an identity, and a voice.
Flash forward to the 21st century. Khayyam, spending a summer in Paris before her senior year in high school, is nursing a grievance after her submission to an art history contest is exposed as an unintended sham. As she puts it, “a single sentence in a twenty-yearold article about Delacroix I found online” led her “down a rabbit hole. Apparently fake news is also old news.” An American-born girl with an Indian Muslim mother and a French father, Khayyam struggles with her mixed heritage and identity as a South Asian woman of color, attempting to reclaim her own voice so that she isn’t “a blank page that everyone else gets to write on.” On a Paris street, she runs into Alexandre, a good-looking French college student, who is also a descendant of Alexandre Dumas, the mixed-race author of The Count of Monte Cristo. When Khayyam visits her new acquaintance’s apartment, she realizes that there is more to her failed art-world discovery than she initially realized. She just needs to do more digging.