Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (includes spoilers!)

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Here’s a link to the Goodreads page, if you’re interested.

This was another one of those books that I picked up at the library after cataloging it. It seemed interesting, if maybe a bit lighthearted from the the blurb on the back cover. The story focuses on Naila, a Pakistani-American girl who is a senior in high school. She’s about to graduate and go off the college to study medicine. However, her parents have always said that when the time comes for her to get married, they will arrange the marriage, and she isn’t allowed to date before then. So when her parents find out that she’s been dating a boy named Saif, they’re furious and decide that Naila and the family need to take a trip to Pakistan to reconnect with their roots (and keep Naila and Saif apart).

It’s not until her parents extend the trip and start being vague about future plans that Naila begins to worry. She finds out that her parents and extended family intend to arrange a marriage for her, like right now, and that she’s not going back to America. All of those friends and family members who have been coming to visit, they’re the families of her suitors. And it seems like everyone knew about it except her.

Well, Naila’s not having that. She wants to go to college to become a doctor, and she wants to be with Saif. So she tries to escape, and this is where the book gets really dark really fast. Her uncle catches her, takes her back to his house, and she’s drugged and locked in her room until her wedding can occur. And when she tries to say no, that she doesn’t agree to the wedding, she is forced to sign the marriage contract anyway. She’s quickly sent to her new husband’s home, where the family is nice to her at first, but her mother-in-law gets very upset when she finds out that the marriage hasn’t been consummated. So Naila’s new husband essentially rapes her because his mother made him, even though he seems like a nice guy in general, and is trying to make the whole situation as easy as possible for her.

She does eventually escape, with Saif and his father’s help, but not before being beaten by her husband’s family and miscarrying her husband’s child. So the ending is happy at least.

This book was such a surprise, since the blurb was a little misleading. As I said, I was expecting it to be a lot lighter. And after the first few chapters, it certainly wasn’t light. At the beginning of the book, her parents seem strict and traditional, but they don’t ever seem to treat Naila poorly. They do, however, always treat her brother better than they treat her. But as soon as Naila has broken one of their rules, everything changes. They’re not physically or verbally abusive, but they basically tell her to trust them and not question any of their decisions anymore. They take Naila’s money and passport, and they take her cellphone once they realize she has still been talking with Saif. You quickly get the sense that she is being watched everywhere that she goes, and her entire family is keeping her on a very tight leash. Part of that is traditional Pakistani culture, I think, but things go downhill so quickly once she tries to run away, and the reader realizes just how controlling her family is.

She doesn’t get much help from anyone, except Saif and his family. Her cousin tries to help her and gives her the money she uses to run away, but as another unmarried daughter, the cousin is under similar close scrutiny and control. Her husband’s family has no idea that she was forced into the marriage or was held against her will beforehand. When her husband finds out, he’s sympathetic, but does nothing to alter her situation. He basically tells her to move on and accept the situation, because things can’t change.

The reader really gets a sense of the Pakistani culture from this book, and especially from the way different people act. The women are much more willing to be nice and try to help, but only to a certain extent, because things are the way they are. And the men, although many seem nice and genial at first, quickly show how violent and controlling they can become if they are disobeyed. It was really interesting to experience, since as an American, I’m not used to that way of life at all. I think this book also shows (and the author’s note confirms this) how prevalent forced marriage is throughout the world, in Middle Eastern culture as well as others. I know that arranged marriage doesn’t necessarily coincide with forced marriage, since many people very willingly enter into arranged marriages. But this book really shows how easily the situation can become forced.

This turned out to be a really great, eye-opening book, especially in the YA genre. There are so many YA books that tend toward lighter topics or fantasy or science fiction topics that aren’t real. But I think it’s so important for anyone, but especially young adults who are learning about the world, to be exposed to things like this. Because not everyone has privilege, and not everyone is in control of their own life.

What do you think of serious topics like this one? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Happy (or maybe not so happy) reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

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