About the Book

Title: Written in the Stars
Published: 2015
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Starry Starry Night
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Swoonworthy Scale: 4 and NOPE
Talky Talk: First Personally Speaking
Bonus Factors: Diversity, Resources
Anti-Bonus Factor: The Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: SobFest 2015

Cover Story: Starry Starry Night

Isn’t this lovely? I love the colors, I love the stars, I looooove the scrollwork that is super pretty and reminiscent of henna art, and I love that although we can see Our Heroine pictured, it’s not a huge, obnoxious, this-model-is-who-you-must-picture kinda deal. Good work!

The Deal:

About to graduate high school, Naila works hard to balance the expectations of her family and close-knit community with her own life outside home – namely, having a BFF, dreaming of college and then med school, and (GASP), spending time with her fabulous boyfriend. Saif is hot, funny, kind – and most importantly, he understands why their relationship has to be a secret. Because Naila’s parents have been clear about one thing: they will chose the man she will marry.

But when her parents discover that their daughter is dating, they whisk Naila away to Pakistan for a month. Maybe a month of catching up with old friends and family will help her parents calm down and see that Saif isn’t so bad…or maybe Naila’s future has just been completely rewritten.

Now she’s trapped in Pakistan when the realization sets in: Naila’s parents have no intention of taking her back to America – ever. And they’ve been planning her marriage to a stranger the entire time. 

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

I’m torn between giving Naila the Shiny BFF charm and the Let Me Love You charm, but I decided on this one because it comes with ENDLESS HUGS.

Naila goes through some serious shizz, y’all – this is not for the faint of heart (or for the hates-crying-uncontrollably of heart), and as things got worse and worse for her, I just wanted to smother her with hugs. She’s one of those rare characters – like a freaking Disney princess – who can face adversity with grace, compassion, and strength, and somehow not come off like a really annoying mannequin (if mannequins were, like, better than you at handling hard stuff). The amount of heart-shattering crap that she goes through would be enough to turn me into a vicious, quivering ball of hate, but Naila remains herself – even as she battles panic, rejection, and deep depression. I wanna hug her, but I also want to shake her hand. Damn, girl. YOU ROCK.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4 and NOPE

Today’s Swoonworthy Scale is brought to you in two separate…piles? Boxes? Compartments? Whatever. Because the important thing to keep in mind here is that I’ll be discussing the two men in Naila’s life entirely separately – there will be no intermingling of these two Swoon ratings at all, none, nope, zippo, nein. That being said:

Saif & Naila: 4

Aww, Saif is the best. He’s sweet, he’s funny, and what really stands out is that he doesn’t give Naila any grief for the hoops her parents put them both through (and by “hoops” I mean, you know, while they’re both still in America and everything is relatively chill). When Naila breaks the bad news that she’s in Pakistan and her parents do not plan on bringing her home, he doesn’t waste his anger on her, and he offers her his full emotional support. And then, of course, when CRAZY PANTS STUFF HAPPENS, Saif shows his true colors, and I went all swoony and teary and gave him an extra couple of points. Yay!

Amin & Naila: NOPE

First of all, NOPE. We’re not talking about Swoon here, because this is someone Naila is forced to be in a relationship with, and Swoon has no place in that. Obvs. So. That being said, I admire(? or like, don’t loathe, I guess would be more accurate?) Amin for attempting to be A Decent Guy, and for having his own struggles (having a monstrous mother comes to mind). And I definitely admire author Aisha Saeed for giving us a nuanced portrait of what The Guy Your Parents Want to Force You to Marry could look like – he’s not a mustachioed villain, he’s just a guy. Ups and downs. And as Naila herself points out, in different circumstances (like, perhaps, the kind of circumstances where she isn’t drugged or kidnapped and is treated like a human being) things could have worked out nicely between them. Like, say, if the grand plan had been an arranged marriage of equal consent, as opposed to a forced marriage. You know. Details.

That being said, considering the way this crazy mess shakes down…NOPE.

Talky Talk: First Personally Speaking

Naila’s voice is refreshing and strong, and she doesn’t ruin it by trying to be too hip or, on the other end of the spectrum, trying to be too stoic. Her perspective on the horrors of getting essentially sold off by her own family is believable – believe me, I cried roughly 18 times and had mascara in my eyes for like three days (eventually it just became a big sobfest, and it was not pretty).

The other really cool (and emotionally excruciating) thing about this writing is that I got to see what Naila loved about her parents and her extended Pakistani family. Things like joking around with your aunts or babysitting your goofy little cousins – learning how to make traditional recipes or hearing stories about your dad growing up – all of that made Naila’s family feel more real…which made the part where they sell her off like a pile of firewood that much more painful. This was a rollercoaster of emotions – and Naila handles being torn between love for her family and then ultimate betrayal at their treatment of her with far more understanding and strength than I could realistically call upon. 

Bonus Factor: Diversity 

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

I think the really compelling thing about this book is that it’s a story I don’t get to hear that often – and from a first person perspective that immerses you in the complexities of a situation that is such a heartbreaking reality for many women. Hooray for Diverse Books! And speaking of, guess who is a founder and the VP of Strategy of #WeNeedDiverseBooks? You guessed it – our author, Aisha Saeed herself!

Bonus Factor: Resources

And hooray for her, for including a great list of resources (dear to a librarian’s heart) at the end of the book, with information on how to help real women trapped in forced-marriage scenarios similar to Naila. Knowledge is power, and in this situation, it could be lifesaving.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Um. Ok. Let’s make a couple of things clear here. Naila’s parents:

  1. State that they are more worried about what their friends/family/neighbors think of them than they are about the physical or emotional wellbeing of their daughter.
  2. Lie to her multiple times about their intentions for her future.
  3. Force her to remain in Pakistan against her will.
  4. Drug her.
  5. Attempt to force her to marry against her will.

I’m not sure “awful parenting” quite covers it, but hey, sure, let’s just go with that.

Relationship Status: SobFest 2015

Oh book, we’ve been through it all together – you gave me major Weepy Racoon Eyes, but boy was it worth it. I don’t know if I am emotionally strong enough to go through it again with you, but I can definitely say I’m better for having known you.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Penguin Books. I received neither money nor cocktails (damnit!) for this review. Written in the Stars is available March 24.

About the Contributor:

Savannah Kitchens is a children’s librarian living near Birmingham, Alabama. She loves discussing Harry Potter fan theories, making lists, and baking pies. When she’s not reading YA books and graphic novels, she’s beating her husband at Scrabble.

This post was written by a guest writer or former contributor for Forever Young Adult.