Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Pakistani American Naila, 17, can't wait for high school to end and college to begin so she can get away from her conservative Muslim Pakistani parents.  When she is caught a prom with a boy, her parents whisk Naila off to visit relatives in Pakistan in the hope of instilling their conservative values in her.  But Naila is in for the surprise of her life, when she realizes what her parents really have in mind.

Naila may go to a regular high school, but she has always been forbidden to go to any extra circular activities, like sleepovers, soccer games, dances and especially the upcoming prom.  Though she has always obeyed their rules, Naila has also been seeing Saif behind her parents back whenever possible, though they have never had so much as a real date.  Saif and his family have been ostracized by the Pakistani community ever since his sister married a non-Pakistani boy.

But prom is a once in a lifetime event and Naila desperately wants to go with Saif.  So when her best friend convinces her parents to let Naila sleepover for a supposed birthday party, it's really just a ploy to get Naila and Saif together at prom.  And the ploy works, until people start sending Naila's younger brother text messages and photos of the couple.  Enraged, both parents show up and drag Naila away from Saif and out of the prom.

Forbidden to return to school for graduation, even though she is the salutatorian, her parents suddenly decide it is time to visit family in Pakistan.  At first, Naila has fun meeting the relatives she had only heard about before, but suddenly her visit becomes a round after round of teas and dinner parties, meeting families she has no real interest in,  But when her young cousin informs her of her parents plan to marry Naila off to a good prospective husband without her knowledge, Naila's life becomes a nightmare.  When she tries to escape, her uncle comes after her and forces her to return home with him.  Constantly watched, knowing one wrong step could conceivably result in her death, Naila must wait and hope that Saif will be able to rescue her.

Written in the Stars is told in the first person by Naila, so the reader not only knows what she is feeling and thinking about what is going on around her, but not no more than Naila until things happen.  Naila never suspects what her parents are up to, and neither does the reader, so it surprises both at the same time.  And the readers feels Naila's painful isolation, frustration, and the hopelessness that occurs as Naila realizes she must accept her circumstances.

Spoiler Alert

I found my blood boiling almost the whole time I was reading the second part of this novel.  Forced to marry a man she doesn't know, kept drugged until the marriage so she wouldn't try to run away again and disgrace the family, Naila finds herself married to a doctor named Amin.  Luckily for her, he is not a mean or cruel man, though his mother makes up for that.  Still,  knowing that the marriage hasn't been consummated, she goads Amin into forcing himself on Naila in what amounts to rape.

I read Written in the Stars straight though one evening.  Naila's voice was both compelling and riveting, sounding like an average 17 year old, even as desperation followed by resignation creeps into it.  As her story unfolds, Saeed includes a lot of cultural information, customs and traditions.  The thing that I had to move difficulty with were Naila's parents, who thought they were doing the right thing for her, but really it was their own face saving they were interested in. How can parents sell of their child to save their reputation?  This is a hard one for me.

Forced marriage is a big problem in this and many other countries, as you will discover when you read the Author's Note at the end of the book.  Be sure to turn the page and look at the list of resources the author includes, in case you or someone you know needs finds themselves in a situation like Naila's and need help/advice.

Written in the Stars is a book not to be missed.

This book is recommend for readers age 14+
The book was borrowed from a friend

1 comment:

  1. Hello Alex, I can feel your passion about this one. It is a terrible to thing to do to a young girl, especially the part about using drugs to stop her running away. I agree with your summing up of the parents, they were obviously only interested in saving face. I would like to read this and have added it to my ‘Alex recommends therefore it will be good’ list.


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