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Monday, May 25, 2015

[REVIEW] Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Written in the Stars

Author: Aisha Saeed
Genre: YA Contemporary
Published: March 24th 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Purchase from: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble
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.


My thoughts

What an amazing debut! Written in the Stars is an important and eye-opening YA novel that should be read by people everywhere. This is easily one of my favorite 2015 reads so far.

Naila is a Pakistani-American girl trying to break out of tradition, not solely because of love but because she genuinely wants to live a life that she chose for herself. That alone won me over to Team Naila. I like how real her character is. She has dreams and ambitions but doesn't have much choice and freedom because of her conservative and controlling parents. I think at some level, a lot of us can relate to that. Maybe it's not our parents but there's almost always something that we struggle against.
"My mother always says when you fight destiny, destiny fights back. Some things, they're just written in the stars. You can try, but you can never escape what's meant to be."

Before I read Written in the Stars, I didn't know anything about Pakistan except that it's located in South Asia. And that's the thing about books set in other countries. That's the thing about books, period. They open our eyes to cultures and societies that are different from our own. They show us realities that are not known to us but experienced by people from other parts of the world. Not only is this book engaging, but it's also informative. It's just that the glossary at the end of the book would have been more helpful if I saw it sooner. The honorifics (is that the right term?) are quite confusing at first.

I love how the author painted Pakistan in this book. Aisha Saeed did not just describe the culture and the practice of arranged marriage in Pakistan, but she also successfully depicted the close family ties so typical in Asian countries. I love the family dynamics in this book. The chaos that ensues whenever relatives are visiting is totally spot-on.  

The romance makes my heart all fluttery. It's sweet but not overly cheesy. Saif's love for Naila is so powerful and amazing to have accomplished what he did. I don't want to be too spoiler-y but trust me when I say that this is no typical teenage romance. Might be a bit unrealistic if you really think about it, but I also want to believe that there's a kind of love that conquers tradition. What can I say? I love star-crossed lovers!
"Love is about the good moments, but it’s about holding on to each other during the difficult ones too. Coming out the other side, weathered but still holding hands, isn’t easy. It’s the most difficult thing there can possibly be, but I know now it’s the truest test of love there is."

I also liked how fast-paced this book is. The chapters are quite short though, and it feels like I've only started a chapter and it's ending already. But I couldn't stop reading and was always eager to know what happens next. My anxiety levels were hitting the roof all throughout the course of reading Written in the Stars because this isn't a happy book and who knows, tragedy might just be around the corner. 

Speaking of tragedy, (okay, that's a bit exaggerating) reading this book made me feel thankful that I don't live in a society where forced and arranged marriages are the norm. I don't think I would have been able to endure what Naila went through and stayed sane.

I understand things are different in Pakistan, but drugging someone? I mean, is that even legal? That is unbelievable. This part really bothered and angered me, multiplied tenfold by the fact that Naila's parents are privy to everything. And they tolerated and even initiated all the atrocities done to their only daughter. Their only daughter, for goodness' sake! 

By Part Two, I was mostly hopeless and in despair. It frustrated and saddened me when Naila decided to give in and accept her fate. But I couldn't really blame her because what else is there to do? I think she was just trying to make things bearable even if she didn't choose that life. And I liked that about Naila. She's a survivor. She went through a lot but she chose to survive. And when opportunity for freedom came, she grabbed it and held on to it. What an admirable heroine.

Although this book didn't make me cry, it made me sad, angry, frustrated, hopeful and sympathetic. Reading Written in the Stars is truly a bittersweet experience. I really want to applaud this book for eliciting these emotions from me as a reader. And although the majority of this book is pretty depressing, the epilogue is hopeful and optimistic. I really liked how the book ends.

The author's note at the end of the book is especially informative. Knowing that this 'silent epidemic' happens in many parts of the world makes my heart ache for those girls who went through and are still suffering from violence. This book carries an important message that I hope reach the hands of those Nailas everywhere. 

Written in the Stars is a powerful novel that left me reeling from so many emotions. It is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and rich in culture. I hope Aisha Saeed accomplished her intent to give voice to every Naila all over the world. Highly recommended!

Meet the Author

Aisha Saeed is an author, mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is also the Vice President of Strategy for We Need Diverse Books™. Aisha has been blogging for over a decade and her writing has also appeared in many places including BlogHer and The Orlando Sentinel. She is also a contributing author to the anthology Love Inshallah

While Aisha loves writing about a variety of topics, her main passion lies in channeling her inner teen. Her debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS was released March 2015 Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.

When Aisha isn’t writing or chasing her two little boys, you can find her reading, baking, doodling henna patterns, or daydreaming about eight consecutive hours of sleep.

You can connect with Aisha at her website, or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, orTumblr.
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Julie @ Books and Insomnia

Julie is a Filipina blogger who pretends she has insomnia so she can stay up late reading. When she's not buried in books, she can be found watching anime, drinking chocolate-flavored instant coffee, lurking on the internet, daydreaming and talking about herself in third person. She loves purple and anything sweet!

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