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.
Naila’s story is gripping from the first and so brilliantly told because it just echoes truthfulness. In her voice you can hear Naila’s confusion, her betrayal, and her pain. Having being caught sneaking out to prom with her secret boyfriend, her parents take Naila and her brother to Pakistan, the country of her parents’ birth, on the premise of a family reunion, when in actuality they’re arranging for Naila’s marriage to a traditional Pakistani family. The writing is simple, and because it is, Aisha emphasizes Naila’s story- there are no extra descriptions, no sidetracking from her arranged marriage, or the fact that her entire extended family has been hiding the fact that they’re arranging Naila’s marriage, or that she’s basically being sold off because she’s shamed her family by her actions. The immersion into the difference of cultures is exquisite, and eye-opening.
I really liked that Aisha didn’t pull any punches in telling Naila’s story. After she tries running away to avoid being married off by her family, she’s drugged by her uncle with permission by her family to be docile throughout the wedding. The family she’s married into isn’t pleased with Amin’s choice, and they show it through verbal and emotional abuse as Naila fights through depression. In addition, Amin abuses Naila as well- and all of this falls well within what happens to those who are forcibly married off in real life.
The one thing that bugged me with Written in the Stars was the ending- it seemed too happy-happy-shiny and way too easy. After everything that Naila went through, having Naila getting out of Pakistan the way she did was way too Hollywood. How could Saif track her down, even with the little help he got from her family? It just was a little too much, but I completely understand the need for the relief of a happy ending after everything Naila goes through.
When Amir turned on Naila. OMG, I had to stop for a minute, it was that hard of a betrayal, even after all she went through with her parents, and her uncle, and the rest of Amir’s family. He had been such a gentleman, understanding and trying to work through things, and then THAT. Just no. He seems to think that just because it was the once that it can be forgiven, and because they’re married that it’s justified, but- no, just no.
The publisher and reviews put Written in the Stars at ages 12-18, grades 9 and up (YA). I’d put it in YA fiction, but with certain scenes (forcible rape) I’d be careful about which readers on the younger age scale I’d give it to. For a classroom pairing, read it with I am Nujood, 10 and Divorced.
I loved Written in the Stars, and reading it was a roller coaster of emotions, which is a hallmark of a good book. Afterwards, it leaves you with that on the beach feeling- you’re peaceful, relaxed, and reflective.