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Rana Joon and the One and Only Now

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About The Book

“A breath of fresh air and punch to the gut all rolled into one.” —Adib Khorram, award-winning author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

This “lyrical” (Kirkus Reviews) 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.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 1.
There’s a jungle down there, and almost a year ago, it swallowed my friend up. I’m standing at the very spot my best friend, Louie, died. Topanga Canyon is just off Ventura Boulevard, the bridge between the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific Coast Highway—dry hills and majestic beaches. It’s the type of road to get nervous on. It’s the type of road that Louie, with his grandma-driving skills, would’ve been extra careful on. He was one of the safest drivers I’ve ever known, always managed to stay right below the speed limit, passed his driver’s test sophomore year on the first try with a perfect score, and yet he somehow lost control of his car and it flipped over and over again down the side of the canyon, into the dense brush where coyotes and mountain lions roam. It was the last day of junior year. Nobody knows why it happened.

I lost my virginity the day of his funeral. I know that sounds all types of wrong. He had one of those open-casket funerals, so I was dreading going, but I obviously had to. I was more angry than sad, though, because they put him in a stupid blue suit, like he was an old man or something. I knew he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread over the ocean.

So he could stay in the flow, he told me.

And if they just had to bury him, he would’ve wanted baggy jeans, his gold chain around his neck, a simple white T-shirt that would expose the artistry of tattoos on his arm—ocean waves, the Buddha sitting in a meditative pose, the Wu-Tang symbol, a few Alan Watts quotes, and Janelle, the name of the only girl he’d ever loved, who broke his heart freshman year and made him swear off love for good. He had a hookup at a tattoo spot in Hollywood—his good friend Lucky was apprenticing and needed someone to practice on and Louie was down because it was free. To be honest, some of the tattoos were shit—I always teased him, saying Buddha looked more like an Asian grandma taking a nap—but they were him.

I wanted to cry, trust me, especially because his face looked different; he’d had so many bruises and broken bones, but they put on a ton of makeup, as if trying to hide the fact that death can hurt. I was pissed off and almost tried to reach down into the casket to undo one of the buttons that was closed so high up on his neck. He looked like he was choking, but it didn’t matter because he was already gone.

Traffic whirls by me. I parked up at the overlook and walked down to the very spot where it happened. I’m not sure why I came here today. Maybe it’s because almost a year without Louie means this circle of grief is coming to an end, and I’m just not ready for it. I used to come a lot and leave flowers for him or read him some of my poems I’d been obsessively writing the year before he died. The poems, however mediocre they might’ve been, brought me a lot of joy—just knowing they came from me, they were my creations, my voice, and no one could take that away from me. I didn’t think I had much skill, but Louie believed otherwise. He always told me they were just masterpieces in the making. That’s the thing about Louie: he always made you feel like you were capable of anything. Grief has sucked all my creative juices dry, though. Here I am almost at the end of senior year, and I haven’t done shit. Fuck, I miss him.

I wasn’t planning on losing my virginity that day. Death isn’t particularly sexy, but when we went back to Louie’s house so we could eat Subway sandwiches and Jell-O with his mom and aunts, his manager from Ralphs, and some kids from school, I snuck into his room. Most would call that a disrespectful move, but Louie and I were tight, best friends since the beginning of freshman year when he took me to see Tupac in concert. Back then, I used to wear Tupac shirts religiously—I realized a little too late that I was acting like a poser, and if you really love someone’s music, you don’t need to wear their face on your body at all times—but luckily, because of that shirt, Louie stopped me in the halls one day, said he respected my commitment, and asked me if I wanted to go to a Tupac concert with him. I’d seen Louie around, had noticed how blue his eyes were against skin that lingered on the darker side, his hair a blond mess of curls, like a lion’s mane. But this was the first time we’d ever talked.

I have an extra ticket, he said. My girlfriend hates him, and you seem legit into him.

That was the best night of my life.

Louie’s room was decked out in Wu-Tang posters—the infamous yellow W, a black-and-white picture of all nine rappers, a cartoon drawing of a dragon with nine ninjas posing from its head to its tail—and quotes that Louie had copied in his perfect handwriting on poster board from his Alan Watts books on Zen Buddhism. Alan Watts was this British, hippie philosopher who Louie idolized and I’m still trying to understand. He said things like, Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun, and, I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.

I hadn’t come to Louie’s room to sniff his pillows and climb into his bed or kiss his old shirts, because our relationship was never like that—but it went deep. I was always down to hear about his latest life philosophies, and he was always down to eat In-N-Out with me after a crappy day.

I was in his room because I wanted a little peace and quiet and I was looking for some part of him, something to hold on to, something that would only be mine. Police said he was driving a hundred miles an hour when he died, which felt impossible to me, knowing how often he got honked at on the freeway for going below the speed limit, but the facts were the facts, I guess. I was about to pull out his desk drawer when the door opened. I turned around and saw Tony, Louie’s twin brother, standing there with a black eye I hadn’t noticed until then.

Did I mention Louie has a twin brother? Not an identical twin brother who would make you do a double take, but a brother who lived in the womb with him, came out first, weighing something like five or six pounds while Louie weighed a measly three pounds two ounces; a brother who grew up with him, loved him, but didn’t particularly like him, and who was completely different from him. They weren’t the type of twins who had a lot in common. Louie was some sort of genius, an honor roll student, tough-looking on the outside but soft and spiritual on the inside, kind to nerds, and a hardworking bag boy at Ralphs. Tony was tough through and through—got into way too many fights, smoked an excessive amount of weed, got fired from every job he started. They both had tatted arms, but Tony’s were devoted to big-breasted pinup women, our 818 area code, his friend Joe’s face after Joe got shot in a drive-by the year before Louie died. I’d probably had one conversation with Tony the whole time I knew Louie—he was out getting into trouble and Louie was a homebody with his nose always in some book.

I thought Tony would yell at me to get the fuck out, that I had no right to be in Louie’s room, but instead he said, “Wassup, Rana?”

“Hey,” I said, leaning my butt on Louie’s desk, in sudden shock that I’d been discovered, but also that Tony knew my name.

“What’s up with your eye?” I asked him.

“Just stupid shit,” he said.

I was wearing a black dress, one of the few dresses I owned, and because my mom bought it for me, it was lacy and very feminine—not really my style. Tony had even lighter-toned skin than Louie, but Tony shaved his head, and I wondered if he would have the same blond curls if he didn’t. They both had those blue eyes that looked unreal.

“You snoopin’ around?” Tony asked. He sat on Louie’s bed, wearing a T-shirt and jeans like Louie should’ve been wearing that day, and he lit up a joint, not even waiting for an answer from me. He offered the joint to me, and I knew it would’ve grossed Louie out and he would’ve gotten all judgmental on his brother, but I’d always wanted to try it, and maybe it was Louie dying so suddenly and so young, but I was starting to feel like Alan Watts was right—we only ever really have this moment. I grabbed the joint from Tony and sucked on it and immediately coughed and blew the smoke out.

“Naw, you ain’t doing it right. You gotta really let it rest in your mouth,” he said, and demonstrated for me. I stared at his lips, realizing that he and Louie shared more than I’d wanted to admit. I tried again, and he nodded in encouragement this time. I could feel my brain sizzling, my body letting go. I’d drank a few beers at parties before, but always stopped myself after the initial buzz. This was something else completely. Tony smiled at me. Behind the bruise, his eye was red, either from the weed or too many tears. I hadn’t cried yet and I hated myself for it, but right then, despite all of Louie’s and Tony’s differences, it was like I was staring at Louie. And maybe it was the weed or the thought of Louie’s body being eaten by worms when he’d wanted his flesh burned and thrown out into the ocean flow and there was nothing we could do about it now, but I started sobbing.

Snot-nosed and high, I covered my face with my hands, and my whole body convulsed with each sob. Tony got up and wrapped his arms around me, rocked me like a baby. Even though I didn’t particularly like Tony in that way, it felt good to be touched and to feel his strength take over me. When I looked up, I saw Louie’s eyes, alive and ready.

Tony kissed me. It wasn’t my first—I’d kissed a boy named Ramptin in eighth grade, but it was sloppy and the whole experience was vomit-inducing, so let’s not even go there. This time, the weed or the kiss or the reality of death had me really living inside my body. I could taste the kiss like candy on my tongue; I could feel Tony’s breath expanding my lungs.

He undressed me. It was difficult to get the dress off because the material was so expensive and delicate. I bet my mom wasn’t thinking of me having sex when she bought it, or maybe she was and that’s why it felt like hours before we could get it off. Once I was naked, though, I was surprisingly not overthinking shit; I wasn’t worried that my boobs were too big or my stretch marks too jagged. His touch felt easy, so I let him do it. I let him lick my neck, my nipples, my belly, in between my legs. I let him put a condom on and find his way inside me, and I tried to stay in the moment and convince myself we were doing this out of our mutual love for Louie, to honor his death, and that Louie wouldn’t be upset with me, even though he would’ve known I was lying to myself the whole time. Louie was the only one who knew my secret.

I like girls.

About The Author

Photograph by Alexa Leigh

Shideh Etaat is an Iranian American writer living in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She is the author of Rana Joon and the One and Only Now and has also had her work published in Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American WritersDay OneFoglifter, Nowruz Journal, and My Shadow Is My Skin: Voices from the Iranian Diaspora. When she isn’t busy writing, you can find her helping her young son navigate life.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (July 25, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665917629
  • Ages: 14 - 99

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Raves and Reviews

*2023 Booklist Editors' Choice (Youth Audio)*
*A Publishers Weekly Summer Reads Pick*

"A vivacious debut [with] a nostalgic vibe and the effervescent air of a summer block party. . . . Through Rana’s magnetic POV and striking poetry, Etaat conveys Rana’s anger, desire, and grief, making for a lively and thought-provoking exploration of self-love and self-discovery."

Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"Readers will root for [Rana's] journey to healing and self-actualization, and will miss her after the last page is turned. A thoroughly engrossing, poignant story of self-discovery."

School Library Journal

"Rana is an engaging lead with a satisfying journey of self-growth. . . . [a] lyrical read."

Kirkus Reviews

"Achingly beautiful and devastatingly funny. Rana Joon is the big sister I wish I'd had growing up. Required reading for every Iranian-American teen."

– Olivia Abtahi, award-winning author of Perfectly Parvin and Azar on Fire

"Like the greatest Persian poets, Rana Joon asks big questions: about life and death, love and loss, the pain of a fractured family and the pleasure of a well-tended garden. Shideh Etaat's debut is a breath of fresh air and punch to the gut all rolled into one."

– Adib Khorram, award-winning author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

"This fantastic novel has all you want: a fast-paced plot with a hit of 90s nostalgia and a heroine as fierce as she is soulful and wise. I adore this book."

– Jasmin Darznik, New York Times bestselling author of The Bohemians

"Rana Joon and the One and Only Now is a stunning book full of grief, courage, and the joy and connection music can inspire. Etaat's prose is poetic and lovely, propelling the plot ahead with a lyricism that sings. I devoured this honest, fierce, and tender story. It is one I will come back to again and again—a must read."

– Mariama J. Lockington, Stonewall Honor and Schneider Family Book Award-winning author of In the Key of Us and Forever is Now

"From page one, Rana invites you into her heart and takes you by the hand as she figures out how to navigate loss, re-find her family, and unfold the promise of her queerness. Deftly written and emotionally honest, Rana Joon and the One and Only Now is a book as genuine and open-hearted as its heroine."

– Shanthi Sekaran, author of Boomi's Boombox and Lucky Boy

"Rarely do we see a main character as real, tough, and refreshingly honest as Rana Joon. A moving and heartfelt debut."

– Marjan Kamali, author of The Stationery Shop and Together Tea

Awards and Honors

  • Garden State Teen Book Award (NJ)

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