Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
Release Date: 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.
This was another one of those books where I tell myself “Sure Aila why don’t you read a little before sleeping?” and I end up finishing it within a night. Sorry sleep, but this was just too good to put down. Love the characters, love the culture, and Naila is just so, so relatable. (Not just because her name is one letter from mine.)
This all starts out with Naila’s senior prom, which her parents definitely wouldn’t let her go to. Basically their motto is “You can focus on anything but boys.” And prom is certainly a distraction with a hella lot of boys.
Turns out, Naila’s parents don’t really need to worry about anything because she already has a boyfriend: another Pakistani-American teen in her class named Saif. But then it turns out that they do need to worry since there’s no chance they’re ever getting an arranged marriage. Saif’s family has been ostracized from the Pakistani community because his sister had marriage with a dude named Justin that they thought was shameful. Thus, star-crossed lovers they are.
Why wouldn’t a girl want to experience her last high school dance with the love of her life, even if her parents are against it? I can certainly understand, especially since my own mother is always against me going to places. However, things take a turn for the worst when her parents find out and they ship her to a family “vacay” at Pakistan.
In Part 1, where the fam is still in America, there are so many times where I can relate to Naila, or see a friend relate.
1. SHE UNDERSTANDS FLORIDA.
“In my world, the leaves stay green, the same Florida heat beating down on us, day after day, year afer year. Unchanging.”
My old teacher used to say that in Florida, we have two seasons: summer, and not summer. True as heck.
2. I can relate to her parent’s strict values.
Granted, my parents definitely aren’t as strict as Naila’s.
“‘You can choose many things,’ she continues. ‘You can choose what you want to be when you grow up, the types of shoes you want to buy, how long you want your hair to be. But your husband, that’s different. We choose your husband for you. You understand that, right?'”
So they’re definitely on the traditional side, and I have an Indian friend whose parents are quite similar. Physically, my friend can avail herself to whatever she wants. New books? Done. New phone? Why not. But mentally, her parents can cause such a strain. Studying to get straight A’s all the time and whatnot. This book shows such a good example on how oppressed children can actually be with conservative parents.
3. Parents are empathetic, too.
Aisha Saeed literally takes the words out of my mom’s mouth.
“‘We raised you well?’ My mother laughs. ‘We can see for ourselves what a job we did. We are your parents. We love you. We want what’s best for you. If we see you doing wrong, we have to stop you. Even if you hate us, and I know you do right now, one day, you will see what we did what was best for you. That is what we have always tried to do.'”
Alas, their meaningful intentions result in deleterious consequences.
This quote really struck home, though, because the end just really reminds me of my mom always says. My earliest memory would probably be second grade, yelling at her for making me practice an hour of piano a day. “You will thank me one day!” She would scream back. “I am your mother, and I am only looking out for the best of you! Trust me, this is for your own good.”
I can’t say I haven’t gained a lot from the never-ending hours of piano practice, but it still stings to think about it.
4. Apologizing to friends because of your situation.
How many times have I had to decline a date, or take a rain check on a movie night, or skip out on a school dance because of my mother? Too many.
The apologies that come right after the hopeful messages are the worst.
– “Sorry guys, not this time.”
– “Maybe next time?”
– “Sure, maybe! I hope. :)” (Always adding smiley faces to seem like it may be a plausible possibility when in fact it’s not.)
“I’m tired of always giving him these same reason. These same excuses for missing outon the important mile-stones in our lives. I swallow back tears.”
You and me both, Naila.
In Part 2 we get introduced to the Pakistan world, where families are super huge and integrated in the community! My own oriental culture isn’t like that, but I definitely have Indian friends that can relate. From here I’ll give a rundown on the amazing parts of the book.
– Naila’s relationships with the different characters are realistic and beautiful but heartwrenching at the same time.
Selma, one of her cousins that becomes her best friend. Her uncle, whom she calls chacha, that finds her after she tries to escape. There are so many different relationships and feelings that she has with characters, you have to read the book to find out. It would be too spoiler-y if I told.
– Superb descriptions of Pakistan.
The author paints a new world for me. The marketplace, houses, and even buses are given an extra dimension that made it seem so real.
– It questions destiny and if our fate is really “written in the stars.”
“‘My mother always says when you fight destiny, destiny fights back. Some things, they’re just written in the stars. You can try, but you can never escape what’s meant to be.'”
… Or can you?
The only problem I had with the story was the large emphasis that Naila’s parents put on making an arranged marriage over her education. They planned on her missing the last month of school and graduation, as well as a year or so of college just so they could find her a husband. For a father who wanted to be a doctor himeself (Naila was studying med), I don’t find that quite believable.
What do I know, though? I wonder if people would really choose their family’s image in the community over education. And that’s the scary part.
I came for the romance, I stayed for the cross-cultural references and eye-opening experiences that Naila had to go through.
Contemporary readers who can appreciate a variety of cultures will appreciate this book and should read it to find out if Naila can really defy what’s written in the stars.