Goodreads: Written in the Stars
Published: March 24, 2015
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.
Written in the Stars is a moving story about a teen’s conflict of culture with her parents. Naila’s parents are thrilled about many of the opportunities she has in the US, including being accepted to a great pre-med program with a scholarships for college. However, they expect her to follow their family’s traditions and to marry the man they will choose for her, which means no dating or even hanging out with boys at school. Naila, enraptured with Saif, one of her school’s star soccer players, does not see the value in this tradition, and so her troubles start.
The story is admittedly not a happy one. When Naila’s family determine she is not being obedient enough to their wishes, they quickly turn on her. Drastic measures must be taken to force her into submission and ensure no shame is brought to their family. Describing the shift of Naila’s parents from stern but loving to outright abusive would not be an understatement. Yet, however uncomfortable it might make readers, it is an important story to tell.
Naila is an excellent protagonist for the story, as she experiences very real suffering from the circumstances thrust upon her, yet also retains an inner strength that will have readers rooting for her. Her position as a teenager is also nicely highlighted in the book. It is very clear that when a teen’s parents decide to control his/her life, there is only so much the teen can do. Other reviewers have stopped short of directly suggesting Nailia “should have done more” because that would obviously get them close to victim-blaming territory. However, I do get the sense from the tone of some reviews that some readers believe this, that if only Naila had realized X sooner or tried Y, it would have been ok. It would not have been ok. Saeed recognizes that when a teen’s family conspires to abuse him/her, there are very few options the teen has to get out, and I found the portrayal of this situation very thoughtful.
I stop short of giving the book a full five stars mainly because the writing could have been better, and the pacing is off. The end of the story particularly cuts off abruptly.
[Spoilers this paragraph] As a personal gripe, I do think the novel comes across as almost “too YA” in its plot, in terms of things turning out exactly how one might predict a “typical” YA book would–which is to say, not entirely realistically or logically. Basically, Naila’s boyfriend Saif and his father travel to Pakistan and snatch her from her new husband’s house to bring her back to the US. I appreciate the fact that the father was involved, which makes this plan slightly more reasonable, and I understand that the action sets Saif up as a “good” guy who is willing to do anything to ensure Naila’s safety (so the opposite of Naila’s new husband, who is extremely passive and just keeps telling her they might as well make the best of things because what’s done is done). However, the whole secret rescue mission thing still seems far-fetched, and I thought it would have been interesting for the characters to try to go through more official channels first. I also thought it would make sense for Naila’s parents to be reported to CPS or something. They drugged their daughter, forged her signature on a marriage document, and left her in a foreign country, and nothing happens to them–in spite of the fact they have another child still living with them at home. Maybe Naila just wants to move on with her life, but an adult should have stepped in and made sure her parents faced some consequences, and also checked that her brother would be safe. He experiences some privileges Naila does not because he’s male, but the parents are clearly not to be trusted here.
Overall, however, Written in the Stars is lovely, thought-provoking book. It talks about important issues while telling a compelling story. Highly recommended.