Written in the Stars
by Aisha Saeed
Written in the Stars is the story of seventeen-year-old Naila whose Pakistani parents decide that she is going to have an arranged marriage and ship her off to Pakistan instead of college when they find out she has a boyfriend. Who she dares to go to prom with. *cue record scratch *
I loved this book and read in in one sitting. My only minor quibbles with this book were that the ending seemed a bit rushed and I felt as if Naila and Saif's relationship needed to be shown on the page a bit more so that the reader really ships them before Nails is sent to Pakistan. Maybe I just wanted more scenes of them together because I desperately ship it.
This is one of those books that really illustrates the power and importance of #ownvoices books. I also looked and saw that there are several Muslim South Asian authors that I know who have given this book very high ratings which makes me reasonably confident in the representation. Written in the Stars isn't a story that an outsider would be able to tell. It would have been too tempting for them to sensationalize the story, make the characters either all good or all bad, or simply be unable to get it. Aisha Saeed writes full characters and is entirely able to avoid stereotyping. There are several characters that I was shocked to find myself able to sympathize with or understand.
Naila's parents are and to me remain unforgivable. I was thinking about this. If I had a student whose parents dragged her away from Prom like that and then she didn't show up for school again I would have felt obligated to call Child Protective Services. I understand that parenting is cultural. I work in an international school; It is impossible to avoid. We had to have a meeting last week because the Middle School was getting complaints from parents about homework. A group of Chinese parents was very upset that there wasn't enough homework and omg, how are the kids going to learn anything. An also had a group of Swedish parents complaining that the kids were getting way too much homework and omg, why are you stressing them out already?
But Naila's parent's actions do not fit within reasonable bounds (trying not to give too much away here). I have read five or so books in the last year where the main character has an immigrant parent or parents from Asia that she struggles to please. And although it is not something that I am able o relate to I can understand and empathize with the parents. But Naila parent and family are on a different level. This book also made me very aware of the need that I have for window books. Because I didn't get it. I still don't get it. How can you love your daughter but also insist on controlling absolutely everything about her existence? How can your love be so fragile that one small (well, it seemed small to me) act of rebellion breaks it?
I was very engaged and invested in the story. About halfway through I had to stop reading for about ten minutes because I was crying. Not choked up, or one measly tear. Nope, I was doing the whole puffy face, tears, and snot everywhere, ugly crying.
I see that Aisha Saeed has a couple of books in her backlist to explore before her new book Amal Unbound comes out on May 8. Excuse me while I buy every single one.
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.