A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is not a light story; this is one to make you think and feel.
For those who want a darker, modern story not set in America, who know nothing about limitations women face around the world, and even for those who do.
Zarin’s life as an Indian girl in Saudi Arabia is defined by everyone except herself. Identified as a failure, a whore, and a troublemaker, she keeps her frosty exterior up until an unexpected encounter with a boy from her past, Porus. Even their growing friendship can’t keep Zarin from making her own risky decisions, until she finally gets in a car with the wrong boy. Her armor begins to crack, and in a society unforgiving to women, anyone she turns to will only blame her.
It’s not a spoiler to say they’re dead, you learn it in the first few sentences, promise. And that made reading this have an imminent layer of darkness, because as you get to know Zarin and Porus, you know what their ending is (at least to a point). You KNOW there’s not exactly a happy ever after. It lent an interesting dark mood to the whole story, one that I rather enjoyed as a change from my usual style. I feel like it came at an odd time in terms of telling a story – a calming moment of hope, perhaps a promise of reconciliation – but at a painfully realistic time in terms of reality. The chaos of life, the unfairness of things out of your control.
The idea of control over your own life is the focal point of the story. This got difficult to read at points, which is really not a surprise when reading about women, young women, in a country that represses and devalues women. The laws, societal values, and general attitudes were really hard to read when accepting that this is real and ongoing in the world.
That’s a clear focus around Zarin: the expectations and judgments on her and her mother before her that determine her life for her. Zarin’s life is defined by everyone except herself. Her aunt defines her by her father, a gangster whom she hated. Her community defines her by her mother, a known wanton woman at the local bar who got what she deserved in the end. Her classmates define her by the rumors they create and spread from bored cruelty. Identified as a failure, a whore, and a troublemaker, she keeps her frosty exterior as a defense.
This is a book I’d had on my list for a while and finally went out to buy. Partly because I love the cover, it’s true, but I had a feeling this was a story I would actually be re-reading. Having read it the first time, I know my instinct was right. I will 100% have this in every one of my classrooms.
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