Happy start-of-the-week! Standalone Sunday is a feature created by Megan @ Bookslayer Reads where every Sunday the goal is to feature a standalone book (not part of a series) that you loved or would recommend! There’s tons of focus on books that are part of a series, so take some time to promote a standalone that you read & loved!
*Note: This is also my first read for the Read Diverse Books 2017 challenge! Check out my intro post for more information on how to join!
My book for this week:
Title: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed
Release date: March 24th, 2015
Genre: Young Adult – Realistic Fiction, Contemporary
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.
I’ve been trying to pick up more diverse reads lately, especially own voices stories (books with characters that have the same background as their authors, i.e. If I Was Your Girl [trans woman protagonist written by a trans woman] or The Star-Touched Queen [Indian protagonist written by an Indian woman] and others like those) and this book automatically stood out on my TBR. Published in 2015, Written in the Stars follows seventeen-year-old Naila as she is unwittingly swept up in her parents’ and extended family’s traditional plans for her future that go against everything she has ever dreamed of for herself. The author, Aisha Saeed, had an arranged marriage herself when her Pakistani parents found a suitable match for her, and she remarks in the Author’s Note that she is one of the incredibly lucky people to have found a life partner through an arrangement that she is truly happy with and grateful for today. I can tell you right now that if you were expecting a happy story like Saeed’s, you will not find it here. This book is, more than anything, a spotlight on the very real and terrifying reality young girls face all over the world from being forced into marriages against their will as teens and even children. Aisha herself talks about this at length in her personal note at the end of the book:
“I personally knew girls, born and raised in the United States, who were pressured or coerced into marriages they never would have chosen for themselves. Because they were taught from a very young age that they would have little to no say in this matter, many grew up believing they could not go against their parents or turn to anyone for help. I’ve known too many people who have had to deal with abuse, failed marriages, and parents threatening to disown them if they tried to leave.” (pg. 279)
For such a powerful and poignant book, I honestly felt a little bad giving it less than 4 stars, but even though I liked it there were still some glaring issues. The most important one is actually that the story feels too fast-paced for such a short book. At 277 pages, Naila’s life in America is sped through too quickly to get a real grip on her life in Florida, or any relationship she has with non-family member characters. Even Saif fell a little flat because there simply wasn’t enough space to get to know him as a character, or her best friend that never shows up again after Part I. This presents a glaring flaw later in the story because it seems completely incongruous with the original idea of her parents that they would neglect and manipulate Naila into accepting a marriage proposal she didn’t want. A lot of development issues are never resolved because there isn’t enough time to resolve them. Luckily, this doesn’t mean that the impact of the story is lost on readers; it’s still a powerful, heart-wrenching narrative, one that had me crying in the middle of a Panera Bread while waiting for my partner to get off work. It feels like an outdated fantasy of a story and it is terrible to realize that all of the horrible acts that happen in this novel – hiding an engagement from her, actually drugging Naila through her wedding, marital rape – are things that actually happen every day, to so many young girls, across the entire globe. I want to make it clear that this is not a book demonizing arranged marriages, but bringing light to the issue of forced arrangements that violate human rights. It is a serious and realistic narrative that needs to be talked about more, and I applaud Aisha Saeed for writing such a moving story that hopefully will impact countless readers and give a voice to so many girls whose destinies have been taken from them.