Title: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Teen/YA, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Naila is a 17-year-old Pakistani American girl, living a life that may not be normal to outside eyes, but it’s normal to her. Her strict Muslim parents believe they know what’s best for her, not allowing her to socialize or date, but Naila has a secret–a boyfriend named Saif, who’s perfect for her. But when Naila’s parents find out about Saif, her life changes drastically, and Naila realizes just how powerless she is.
Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars is a novel I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Aisha and I have been Twitter friends since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and hers is one of the novels I’ve most been looking forward to for 2015. So that means there were some high expectations going in. I didn’t know anything about this novel except that the main character was a Pakistani Muslim American teenager who was a girl. That’s it. And oh, boy, I’m glad I didn’t know too much about the plot because I was completely hooked every second of the way, waiting to see what would happen next.
Let’s start with the main character, Naila. She’s smart, sweet, and tries to respect her parents’ wishes. She loves them and knows they want what’s best for her. She’s just not sure that, growing up in U.S., so different from where they were raised, they actually know what’s best for her. Naila doesn’t see anything wrong with dating a boy she’s serious about, but she also doesn’t want to go against her parents’ wishes. This turns Naila into a big ball of guilt, uncomfortable in her own skin, and unsure of who she is.
Things take a turn after Naila’s parents discover her secret relationship in Written in the Stars, and as you can imagine, it’s not a positive turn for Naila. There is so much packed into this book, so many twists and turns and emotional occurrences, but I don’t want to discuss specifics because of plot details. So instead, let me just say this: Saeed writes such an honest, moving main character. Anyone who grew up with strict parents, not just South Asians, will identify with Naila. Saeed speaks universal truths through the specifics of one character’s experience, and it’s incredibly emotional. It’s hard not to become wrapped up in Naila’s journey.
Written in the Stars deals with serious issues, but it’s also the story of one young woman trying to figure out where she belongs in the world. It deals heavily with the powerlessness of women, specifically in the Muslim world, but the underlying truths are broadly applicable. If you enjoy cultural stories, stories about strong women, or just emotional reads that will suck you in completely (if you’re like me, you love all three), then this is a book you shouldn’t miss.