Written in the Stars
This is a slow paced novel, mirroring Naila's isolation and waiting. We see few glimpses of the world outside of the homes, because Naila is not afforded them, although the descriptions of the life inside the homes, from the food to the clothing to the awkward teas with prospective bridegrooms, are vibrant and detailed. The few moments when she does make attempts to flee punctuate the novel brilliantly, and make her continued captivity all the more poignant. The afterword assures us that she eventually is able to better her situation, and the notes from the author help to understand why she has written such a polemic against arranged marriages, even though she herself is in a happy one.
While readers who want happier stories about arranged marriages might prefer the ambiguity of Kavita Daswani's Lovetorn, Written in the Stars will appeal to those who like their romances with a side of problems. There are some details of Naila's married life that are disturbing, but they are described in such a way that a reader without prior knowledge will not grasp the full impact of what is occurring, so this would be appropriate for 6th graders and older.
I'm not sure what I expected from Written in the Stars, but it definitely wasn't what I received. Naila's story of a forced, arranged marriage both shocked and horrified me to the point where I had to put the book down several times. It reminds me of how I felt while reading Little Peach, except I knew going into that one was going to be hard. I didn't expect the same level of anger and heartbreak as Naila's situation went from not-so-great to down right horrifying.
Naila is hiding a secret from her parents: She's in love with a boy named Saif and if her parents were to find out, they'd be furious. The choosing of her husband is left to up to them, with no input from her. As a result, This may see like too much involvement for some, but for Naila culture, it's a deep level of trust and love for her parents that motivates her to accept this... kinda. The problem is that since she has found someone who she's fallen in love with, she no longer wants that for herself. But the worst does happen, and Naila suddenly finds herself whisked off to Pakistan, far away from the boy she loves and a life she wants.
Written in the Stars really opened my eyes to the issue of forced marriages and arranged marriages. Before reading this novel, I personally couldn't understand why someone would be okay with any form of an arranged marriage, but Naila's story has really shown me that a forced marriage is NOT the same thing as an arranged marriage. I really loved Saeed's guest post at YA Highway, where she goes into detail about the different forms of arranged marriages and I encourage you to check it out and learn new things! Naila is coerced, drugged and imprisoned during her "courting process." She doesn't want the life that her parents are choosing for her and tries desperately to escape. This, obviously, is completely wrong and a form of abuse.
There was a part of me that understood her parents' concern for Naila. I too grew up in a very religious household where I wasn't allowed to go to school events and parties or out with friends. Thankfully, I was given a lot more freedom and my parents became more understanding while I was in high school. So I understood why her parents were strict: they viewed it as a way of protection for their daughter. Unfortunately, they completely crossed the line and abused the trust Naila had in them by forcing her into a marriage she didn't want. They are a perfect example of having honorable intentions, but horrible, horrible actions through unreasonable justification. They fully believed that what they were doing was for the good of Naila and they viewed her relationship with Saif as a threat to her future. It also seemed like they were angry that Naila took away their "right" to choose her mate. There were just so many complex parts to their relationship.
What I really enjoyed was the writing style. It's very simple in nature, which originally concerned me. But I grew to appreciate it more as the story went along because it allowed for Naila's vulnerability to truly shine through. There weren't any fancy prose or deeply metaphorical phrases to distract the reader from what was actually happening. Naila's circumstance was enough to completely captivate me from beginning to end.
I also appreciated Saeed's Author's Note at the end that mentions forced marriages can happen in any culture, country or religion and is condemned by all. This was such an important distinction because there are some cultures and religions that get a lot of flack about arranged marriages in general. I love how she makes the reader aware that an arranged marriage is a loving arrangement between all parties and that no one should be forced to do anything they don't want. This is also why I think it was smart that Saeed left out mentions of any of the characters' religious beliefs. I know this may be a fear of some readers, but it was very tastefully done and Naila's religion is not blamed for what happened to her. The only blame placed is on the people that did this to her.
To conclude, I'm so happy I read Written in the Stars because it's helped me understand so much more about arranged marriages and forced marriages. It's books like this that make me incredibly grateful for the We Need Diverse Books campaign to help put more books like this on the market. I'm really excited for what Saeed writes about next.
At just over 300 pages, this book ended up being a quick read but one that stood out. I thought the author did a great job showing the culture, the differences between an arranged marriage versus a forced marriage, why someone would accept an arranged marriage, and having villains in the story without vilifying an entire culture.
Naila, my heart broke for her many times. She was a great example of how a character can be so powerless yet remain strong. She fought every step of the way, she refused to just give in to something she never wanted. Even when her life was miserable, she still showed care and concern for others.
Most of the focus of the book was on Naila but her whole family was heavily involved in the plot. When Naila, her parents, and her brother first arrived in Pakistan and so many family members were there, always around, catching up, the huge family aspect was so familiar. The dynamic of the family was really interesting to see. Who people deferred to, who obviously didn’t agree with decisions made but kept quiet, what each person’s place in the family was. Saif, Naila’s boyfriend from home, played a huge role even though he barely appeared in the book. He was Naila’s hope and that hope helped her fight.
The book was very fast-paced. It seemed like only a few pages had been read and they were in Pakistan, then a few more and Naila was discovering the truth, then a few more and it was over. It flew by. Even with the fast pace, it didn’t take away from the horrors Naila experienced. It was hard to read, gut-wrenching, and it did a great job of being unforgettable.