Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
Genre: YA Contemporary | Diversity: Muslim MC | My Rating: 4/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
“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.”
Written in the Stars is a short but heart-breaking book about what it means to choose your own destiny—and how hard you sometimes have to fight to keep your dreams alive.
I was intrigued—and slightly terrified—by the premise of this book: a girl whose parents trick and coerce her into a marriage she doesn’t want. The story is told in lightning fast, beautiful language that really expresses what Naila’s feeling as she goes from in love with her secret boyfriend to fighting for her autonomy halfway across the world in her parents Pakistan homeland.
For a tiny book, this one is a tear-jerker, no question. Going into it, you know that Naila’s parents are up to no good with that arranged marriage plan, but you watch her crumble when she realizes they’ve been going behind her back. I knew when they touched down in Pakistan that she was on thin ice, but she’s such a hopeful person that she doesn’t see the signs right away.
This is a hard story to read. You know it’s not going to go well for her, but you keep reading because you want to be wrong. It also provides a lot of insight into the hidden world of arranged marriages in our contemporary world. As the author points out in her note at the end of the book, this is something that happens a lot more than Americans are aware. Sometimes it turns out great, but other times it’s horrifying, like what happens to Naila.
I appreciated the wide range of personalities in the characters, from Naila’s sweet cousin, Selma, who tries to help her escape, to the budding friendship between Naila and her sister-in-law, Feiza. There are definitely the Bad Guy characters, Naila’s Chacha who beats and drugs her at one point, as well as Naila’s parents for forcing marriage on their daughter. But there are also morally grey characters, depending on your perspective. For instance, I really wanted to like Naila’s husband, Amin, *except for that part where he basically rapes her* and I could see where his family came from in a weird way.
representation of Pakistani Muslim culture
It was interesting reading this book after finishing Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged. Both Sofia and Naila are Pakistani Muslim immigrants, but their cultural expressions are at different ends of the spectrum. While Sofia’s parents let her choose her potential husband, Naila’s parents will do anything to enforce their will on their daughter, even when it makes her miserable. While Sofia talks a lot about practicing Islam, Naila doesn’t really focus on religious practice.
Reading this book definitely showed me the stricter side of the coin. At the same time, I think it’s important to not just read one book with a Muslim protagonist, but to read multiple books with slightly different takes on it. Muslim people aren’t a monolith whatsoever—something I think is really easy to forget when you’re a white American surrounded by stereotypes.
Like I said, this book was heart-wrenching—but like others, I felt it was a little too short. Everything happens so fast, especially in the beginning. I was rooting for Naila’s happiness, but I didn’t really have a chance to get to know her boyfriend, Saif, or her friend Carla, left behind when Naila’s stuck in Pakistan. I wanted a chance to settle into her character before she’s thrust into this unusual environment. I felt more time could be spent lingering in the rough moments, but the narrative just kept rushing forward.
Absolutely, read this book. It will probably break you, but hopefully that’s what you’re into. If anything, Written in the Stars provides a much-needed glimpse into a cultural practice that’s unfamiliar to most white American readers.
Have you read Written in the Stars or any other great books with Muslim rep? Let me know in the comments!