Goodreads: Written in the Stars
Published: March 24, 2015
Naila’s parents have always made her understand that though she may choose her outfits and even her college major–assuming they allow her to go to college–they will choose her husband. Until then, Naila not only cannot date a boy, she cannot even talk to one. But then she falls in love with Saif and her parents, ostensibly to protect her, take her on a trip to Pakistan, where they force her into marriage. Alone and desperate, Naila wonders if her fate is truly written in the stars or if she can escape the path others have chosen and forge her own.
Written in the Stars is a powerful and a heartbreaking book, one that looks unflinchingly at the nightmares faced by girls forced into marriages against their wills. While the story is never graphic, it is honest, and it spares neither its characters nor its readers from unthinkable violence, coercion, and cruelty; the horrors are made all the more disturbing because Aisha Saeed reminds us that, for some, Naila’s story is not fiction, but their reality. Written in the Stars is an important book it many ways–it features diverse characters (the protagonist is the daughter of Pakastani immigrants) and shines a spotlight on the violence perpetrated against unwilling brides. It resonates so strongly, however, because its message never seems forced or didactic. Saeed lets her characters tell the story, inviting readers into their lives, so that we can feel Naila’s pain and desperation, all her fear and betrayal, and make it our own. When we try to imagine walking in Naila’s shoes, that is when to continue reading seems impossible–and when Written in the Stars has its opportunity to leave an indelible mark on our hearts.
Writing a story about a girl forced into marriage in Pakistan could be considered risky. How do you tell a such story without appearing to demonize a culture or a country? Saeed handles her material deftly. All her characters are fully-realized–even Naila’s parents, who could have easily been turned into stereotypes, possess many facets, from overprotective to loving to forceful. And the characters introduced by Naila’s arranged marriage prove just as three-dimensional–her husband, for instance, seems to understand Naila’s position but also feels trapped by the pressures imposed on him by their community. By showing us that these characters are people, all of them dealing with the clash of cultural and society expectations against their personal desires in their own unique ways, Saeed ensures that her story is about individuals and their choices, rather than a blanket critique of any one group of people.
While I found the focus on societal expectations relevant, however, the most powerful part of Written in the Stars for me was Naila’s struggle with how much control she has over her own fate. She is a victim of abuse and violence and she has absolutely no one to whom she can turn. Even those who sympathize with her urge her to give up, to accept that life is a struggle and a nightmare and that she has no way out–the best she can hope for is acceptance. Without a phone, money, or transportation, she is literally trapped. And she knows that if she ever tries to escape, she will probably die. If Naila were to give up, I thought, I would not blame her. She would only be choosing to protect the little she has left. And I wondered what I would do if I were in her place.
Written in the Stars never pretends that there are any easy answers, not to how one should choose to respond to outside pressures or to whether or not anyone should risk everything for their freedom. It simply acknowledges the tragedies that so many experience and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. That kind of hard look at reality presented to a teen audience is rare and beautiful. And it makes this book one of the must-read releases of 2015.