Written in the Stars
by: Aisha Saaed
published: Nancy Paulsen Books
acquired: received for review
summary: This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
review: I read this novel a week or so before I read Devoted, which has a very similar message and theme. And like Devoted, I couldn't put this one down and finished it in a single afternoon (practically unheard of these days). Basically, religion taken to its extreme is always dangerous. It's tempting to criticize books like these for misrepresenting or exaggerating religious practices, but it's clear Saeed understands the subject matter.
The truth is, there isn't a religion out there that doesn't have its extreme fundamentalist believers and practices. It's foolish to pretend they don't exist, and it is what allows further abuse. By not talking about it or brushing it aside as something insignificant is a further crime.
So, this book. It's really painful to read. It flows so smoothly into a complete disaster for Naila. It's a situation that I saw coming almost from the very beginning, but as it unfolded I was completely horrified. The plot tightens and winds until it's a taut string of tension I felt from the middle of the book until the end. Thankfully, there is a pretty great payoff at the end. And though there are some incredibly mature themes in this book, Saeed doesn't cross the line into to gruesome, making this book (in my opinion) appropriate for teen readers.
In addition to its beautiful writing, there are several other things going for this book. It's set in Pakistan, which is pretty rare for a contemporary book. There is a diversity in the characters as they explore religious practices. Naila's parents are strict and conservative. Saif's parents are more relaxed, causing a rift between his and Nalia's parents.
Pick this one up if you're looking for something a little different from the average contemporary. Besides being entertaining, you'll learn something.