Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (2015)
Once I started reading this book, I could not stop! I was completely captivated by the descriptions of Pakistani culture, and I needed to know how things would turn out for Naila. She was being treated so unjustly and I wanted everything to turn out well for her. There is a lot to love about this book, but I think the best part for me was that I really didn't know how it would end. It seems obvious that being forced into a marriage is bad and Naila should be with Saif, but this novel isn't quite that black and white in many ways, and at one point it began to seem quite plausible that she would remain in Pakistan in the marriage her parents arranged.
I also just loved the descriptions of life in Pakistan. Everything from the house where Naila's family lived, to the markets, the food, the clothing, and the obvious cultural differences. Her family's expectations for behavior were so different than what I am used to, it was kind of shocking at times. There were parts I found not quite believable, but I know they are realistic. Parents shunning their kids for what seem like minor infractions seems impossible, but I have heard stories like this before. After Naila is caught with Saif at the dance, her parents say "We've lost you...You are gone." What kind of parent would say something like that to a kid because she snuck out to see a boy? But I know that parents do reject their kids for reasons that seem ridiculous to me, and I know that in some cultures people have very particular ideas about family and about how people should behave.
It was hard to see Naila go through this rejection, and withstand almost constant criticism. She's really a nice, well-behaved person by American standards. But like I said, this book isn't black and white, and Naila had allies even among her traditional Pakistani family. Even those who weren't allies weren't necessarily terrible people, they just had different views on life than she did. It was fascinating, heartbreaking, and hopeful.
I always like reading stories about cultures different from my own, and when they take the form of a truly gripping novel that is definitely a bonus. Aisha Saeed is one of the founders of the We Need Diverse Books movement and I'm delighted that she has added to the diversity in young adult literature by writing a novel that I'll be happy to recommend.