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Book: “Kismet” by Amina Akhtar
Publishing Info: Thomas & Mercer, August 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: From Amina Akhtar comes a viciously funny thriller about wellness—the smoothies, the secrets, and the deliciously deadly impulses.
Lifelong New Yorker Ronnie Khan never thought she’d leave Queens. She’s not an “aim high, dream big” person—until she meets socialite wellness guru Marley Dewhurst. Marley isn’t just a visionary; she’s a revelation. Seduced by the fever dream of finding her best self, Ronnie makes for the desert mountains of Sedona, Arizona.
Healing yoga, transcendent hikes, epic juice cleanses…Ronnie consumes her new bougie existence like a fine wine. But is it, really? Or is this whole self-care business a little sour?
When the glam gurus around town start turning up gruesomely murdered, Ronnie has her answer: all is not well in wellness town. As Marley’s blind ambition veers into madness, Ronnie fears for her life.
Review: I am not, nor have I ever been, someone who buys into influencer stuff, especially not ‘wellness’ influencers. Yes, my husband and I have a Peloton that I am constantly trying to get into a solid routine with, and yes, I’ve tried yoga, and meditation. But that’s about as far as I go. AND EVEN THEN I feel like I’m constantly stopping and starting, no matter how much I love having Cody Rigsby tell me that I’m fierce, babe! But I’m also super interested in the drama around influencers and some of the dirt you hear about the wellness community, but that’s just because I love a good mess. And that is probably why I was very interested in reading “Kismet” by Amina Akhtar. For one, the cover is gorgeous. I’m not as big into book covers as Serena, but this one just snagged my attention the moment I saw it. And then when I saw that it was a satirical thriller that pokes fun at the wellness movement, much like her previous book “#FashionVictim” did for the fashion industry, that just clinched it. I had to read it.
In terms of working as a thriller, “Kismet” has all the elements to lead to general success. We have an engaging protagonist in Ronnie, a young woman who is trying to start a new leaf after years of living with her abusive aunt Shameem. She has recently found confidence thanks to her life coach turned friend Marley, an aspiring wellness influencer who convinced her to sell her home and move to Sedona, Arizona, a wellness based community. Ronnie has self doubt issues which makes it easy to care for her, and easy to believe that she may not trust her judgement as things start to take a turn for the strange, to the violent. We also have a mystery of a mysterious person murdering predatory wellness influencer superstars in the community, perhaps partially at the behest of the local raven population. Seeing Ronnie try to become her own person while starting to realize that she may be getting close to a murderer makes for a suspenseful mystery, though perhaps not in ways I was expecting. There were a lot of good moments of suspense, as well as some good twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and the murders are both disturbing but also kind of tongue in cheek as some truly reprehensible people get picked off one by one. It really made it so I couldn’t put the book down as I charged forth to find out just what was going on.
But the aspect of this book that really hit it out of the park was how Akhtar so effortlessly satirizes and dismantles the idea of ‘wellness’ culture in our society, and how fraudulent, isolating, privileged, and, yes, racist it can be. The community Ronnie and Marley join has an open and body positive/health conscious demeanor and facade, but from the jump there are numerous problematic aspects to it. Be it people appropriating aspects of other cultures to make money, or disrespecting the environment around them, or hostility towards the Other (namely Ronnie, the only person of color in the community), Akhtar skewers the concepts that are thrown around by wellness influencers and has a very fun time making the community more and more unhinged whilst seeking out crystals, spiritual connection, and a like minded, albeit cult-like, group of neighbors. There is also a good exploration of white women weaponizing their race against women of color, as the friendship between Ronnie and Marley is codependent at best, and deteriorates into something far more toxic, with Marley hurling microaggressions, condescension, and then potential violence towards someone whom she supposedly loves like a sister. The community itself, with a few exceptions, is just as bad towards Ronnie, and it’s a very effective way of showing how this supposedly positive, wellness minded ethos is very much for a certain kind of person, all others to be either fetishized or looked upon with suspicion. It’s some great satire, and it has teeth.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Kismet”. And I think I will stick to my wellness routine of the exercise bike, quick meditation, and the occasional bath bombed soak in the tub.
Rating 9: Addictive, biting, funny, and genuinely surprising, “Kismet” is a hell of a fun read that satirizes an industry that could use a good ribbing.
“Kismet” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2022”.