Thursday, September 24, 2020

Teen/YA Review: A Girl Like That

My last audiobook of the Big Book Summer Challenge, barely squeezed in the last week, was a unique YA novel, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Set in Saudi Arabia, this story takes a different approach to most, with the end at the beginning.

In the novel's Prologue, the two main characters, teen Zarin and her friend (maybe more), Ponus, have died in a car crash and are looking down at the reactions of their family at the scene of the accident. Then, the novel takes a step back and slowly builds the stories of their lives, with a focus on Zarin. Born in India, Zarin is an outsider in this country, not only because of her country of origin but also because her family is neither Hindu nor Muslim; they are Zoroastrian. This is one of the reasons that she and Ponus, whom she knew as a small child in India and re-encountered recently as a teen in Saudi Arabia, connected so easily and became friends so quickly: he and his family share her background and religion. Zarin's parents died when she was very young, so she has lived with her aunt (Masi) and uncle (Masa) since then, adopted by them and emigrating with them when Masa's job took them to Saudi Arabia. Though Masa is loving toward Zarin, her aunt has always been cruel and resentful toward her. She was bitter toward her sister, who was involved with a man outside their religion and in organized crime. This was Zarin's father. Fearful that Zarin would follow in her mother's footsteps, get involved with an unacceptable man, and have a baby out of wedlock, Masi is extra strict with Zarin. In response, Zarin has adopted a rebellious attitude, going for rides with boys in cars and doing anything to escape her aunt. For all of these reasons, Zarin is not popular at school. The other girls find her cold and stand-offish, and she gains a reputation from her frequent dates with boys. That's why, when Zarin reconnects with Ponus, she finally finds a real friend, someone who knows her from before and accepts her as she is. He helps her through some difficult times.

It's odd to read a novel knowing that the two main characters will die at the end (or already died at the beginning), but the author does a great job of creating complex characters that I came to care about. The novel deals with many of the issues that come up in any YA novel: peer pressure, mean girls, social media, sexual assault, and family abuse. What makes A Girl Like That unique is its setting in Saudi Arabia, where the religious police are a constant threat to young people, and Zarin's and Ponus' religion that most people have never heard of (Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest continuously practiced religions). Setting these typical teen problems in an unfamiliar cultural and religious world will be intriguing to young readers (as it was to me, too) and open their eyes to a broader world view, while also showing the similarities between young people all over the world. The audio was very well-done, with multiple narrators including not only Zarin and Ponus but other characters as well, providing many different perspectives that gradually build these characters and their stories. Obviously, this is something of a dark story since you know that these two teens' lives will end much too soon, but I enjoyed the deep dive into their lives and their world.

400 pages, Square Fish

Recorded Books

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the prologue, from Zarin's perspective.


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  1. I wanted to like this one more than I did. I didn't not like it, I just didn't love it. I agree, though, that the dying at the beginning was a good set up for the plot and I liked reading a book set in Saudi Arabia.

    1. I wouldn't say it was a favorite of mine, but I found it intriguing and despite knowing how it would end, engrossing.