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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If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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As promised, I’m finally talking about the book I read most recently, called If I was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. This book is about a transgender girl who moves to live with her father in Tennessee after being assaulted. She transitioned as a teenager, and passes very well, but she is still coming to terms with being a girl and living the life she wants to live. She meets new friends in her new school, and even meets a boy that she likes, but she doesn’t tell anyone that she is transgender. She worries that if she does tell her new friends or boyfriend that they will react the way that other people she knows have reacted and she will get hurt again.

I really find stories like this interesting, and have read a couple other similar books in the past. But this one was a little bit different, in that Amanda has already fully transitioned at the start of the story. There are a few flashbacks to events during and before her transition, but the bulk of the plot takes place in the present. So the story shows her trying to make friends and fit in, to really experience what it’s like to be a girl and have friends and a boyfriend, since this is all new for her.

One thing that I thought was really cool is that this book is actually written by a transgender woman. That’s not to say that stories like this must be written by someone who has directly experienced the difficulties they write about. Writers are definitely capable of doing enough research to write competently about their subject matter. Of course, this is a very general statement, and some writers write more authoritatively than others just as some books are better written than others. But what I’m saying is that I feel like writers who have some experience with what they’re writing about can bring a really interesting perspective to stories of this nature.

However, after reading the book, I read the author’s note at the end, which changed my opinion a little bit. In the author’s note, Russo talked about how she decided to write Amanda as a transgender girl who passed very well and who was able to transition at a younger age than might realistically be possible. This gave me a little bit of pause. Not that I wanted the character to have it harder than she already did, as unfortunately tends to be the reality for many transgender people. I just expected that the story would feel more realistic since it was written by a woman who could better share the experiences of transgender women. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a YA novel, and maybe the writer just wanted to make Amanda more relatable to readers, but I was a little bit disappointed.

Despite that, I thought this was an interesting take on a transgender coming of age story. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, nor was it the best book on this subject matter that I’ve read, I think it was still worth reading. Stories like this one are important to read, since they broaden our understanding of people who aren’t like ourselves, and don’t share our experiences.

Has anyone else read this book or any other books like it? What do you think of this subject matter? Let me know in the comments.

Happy reading!

Alyss

(photo courtesy of Goodreads)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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I read this book a couple months ago during my blogging hiatus, but I really wanted to talk about it now because it might be one of the most interesting realistic YA fiction novels I’ve ever read. The story follows two twins, Noah and Jude, and the perspective switches back and forth between them. The interesting part is that Noah’s perspective takes place when the twins are 13-years-old, and Jude’s perspective takes place when they’re 16-years-old. So as the reader, you find out bits and pieces from each twin, but you don’t really know the whole story until the very end.

I don’t really want to give away too many details, and the way the book is written makes it hard to say what is the main plot and what is side-story. Overall, you just get a really good picture of both twins from their own point of view as well as from the other’s point of view. There’s a bit of romance, a bit of back-stabbing and jealousy, and also a lot of coming of age. And all of that is mixed with the perspective of two very different twins who are both artists. The way they see the world and interpret things makes the book almost magical to read, without necessarily considering this to be magical realism.

This book definitely made me think after reading it, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves realistic YA fiction. If you want to go and take a look, I’ll add a link to the Goodreads page.

Happy reading!

Alyss

(Photo courtesy of Goodreads)