... a perfect example of how culture and family can affect those whose lives span different realities ... More than just a novel with a plot ... Arafat tries to do a lot in this novel, and she pulls it off ... This is not a happy novel. There are shining moments of friendship and fun, but they are highs in a life that's an almost constant low ... This constant state of discontent gives You Exist Too Much a bleak atmosphere that's reinforced by some of the narrator's thoughts ... Despite its depressing tone, there is hope in this story ... this is a novel that uses examination of the self as a vehicle to explore the impact of migration and sexuality on young people caught between cultures ... In that regard, this book is about much more than being multicultural; it offers a messy, multilayered, flawed, insecure character as proof that multi-everything should be a category, because humans are too complicated for every other classification and multicultural leaves out things like sexuality and mental illness. At once complicated and engaging, this is the kind of debut novel that announces the arrival of a powerful new author who, besides writing beautifully, has a lot to say.
Unfortunately, the story fails to fully connect the daughter’s suffering with that of the mother, brushing aside Laila’s history ... But a novelist has the imaginative power to grant access to her most dynamic characters’ lives as they are relevant, and to make structural choices to bring various thematic tunes into concert. Arafat limits the story’s scope to the narrator’s experiences, and the novel is the poorer for it, as the prose is liveliest and most affecting when describing Laila and her relationship to the narrator. Indeed, the book’s best lines belong to Laila ... The way the narrator navigates gender expectations within Middle Eastern culture is equally enthralling ... But these revelatory moments are too sparsely interspersed among a litany of destructive sexual exploits, giving the novel the breathless feel of an overstuffed therapy session, and reducing what might have been a probing examination of the way generational trauma is passed down to a narrow journey through one young woman’s romantic travails.
An unpretentious read, what the novel lacks in richness and layers, it makes up for in accessibility and honesty, steering clear of the stereotypes that so often plague characters from a Middle Eastern background ... You Exist Too Much commits a few classic errors of the debut novel. It trusts the reader too little and explains too much. The jumps between past and present occur too frequently at certain points and without the breadth necessary for the reader to become fully immersed in one scene before proceeding to the next. It could be argued that this intentionally mirrors the narrator’s own meandering thoughts as she processes her past, but there is little in the way of structure in these flashbacks. A nonlinear format would need more room to breathe. There is a sizable cast of characters, perhaps too many for a novel with such tight space. Largely indistinguishable apart from some surface-level traits, the narrator’s lovers blend into one another ... Nevertheless, it must be said that You Exist Too Much fills the queer Middle Eastern gap in the literary market. Moreover, it does so with a lead who is sympathetic and a story line that avoids the tropes that often accompany characters contending with their sexuality. The novel’s bittersweet conclusion is natural, not forced, favoring resolution through empathy and quiet acceptance over the spectacle of a grand reconciliation or confrontation.