Life is full of sadness. It's part of being a woman. Our lives are lived for the sake of others. Our happiness is never factored in.
As a note, a printed copy of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.
Every now and again a reader will pick up a book and just know that it’ll be special. Powerful. Somehow, they just sense it. And in Written in the Stars, in spite of that little voice that says “this will be a gift” you never know quite how important it will be until you finish it. Beautifully crafted and easy to devour (and drown in emotion), this is the sort of novel one can start and finish in a night.
Because firstly: Aisha Saeed’s prose is incredible–this much you should know. I’m confident to say that Written in the Stars is the best contemporary release of the year. And it tackles many topics that are often shied away from in literature and it does so with grace, in spite of its horrifying nature.
Saeed pens a tale of love, loss, betrayal and mistreatment in the form of an arranged marriage. It tells the story of one young girl–who’s future is right in her grasp–and one nightmare of a trip to her family’s home country follows. Although it is a tale of fiction, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence and that’s ultimately what makes it all the more upsetting.
Readers, I warn you now: this book will touch your heart. For all that seems horrifying and unreal to us, is all too clear of a reality--a way that many were raised--for many men and women, girls and boys.
Aisha’s novel is easy to read in terms of format, but very difficult to read in terms of emotion. It’s indescribable; Naila is a beautifully real and strong young woman who you can’t help but adore and feel for. You’ll feel the injustice of what is happening for her in real time and I swear to you, I can still feel my heart in my throat.
We know that young adult novels are lacking diversity now more than ever. And often literature is lacking a decent flow to storytelling and a reader can be left feeling underwhelmed. Aisha is not one of those authors: her tone is honest, it’s raw and beautiful and her story is full of so much life.
It’s impossible to feel nothing while reading–whether it’s sadness or concern when Naila and her family leave the states for a vacation, after Naila is found with her boyfriend, or the unjust manner in which her family goes about arranging her marriage to a stranger without even telling her.
Life, as Naila knew it, is over and it’s not just meant in an over the top way. Suddenly, all she was working for–her life back in America, her dreams of university and her relationship with Saif is gone. And her only way out is getting help and proving she is being held against her will by her family.
Her boyfriend back home, concerned beyond belief for her life, tries to help her and is one of the few light spots. He’s gentle and obviously loves her a great deal–something that often many girls don’t have. Although she is only mentioned briefly, her best friend back in the states also voices her concern and attempts to help in the background.
Another person in her corner is her cousin, Selma, who becomes her closest friend and who tries desperately–at great risk–to get her out. They device a plan for escape only to be thwarted by her uncle and is dragged back to her family’s home against her will. Before she knows it, she is drugged by after this attempt and eventually forced to wed a man she barely knows.
The horror of it all doesn’t stop there. Her family all but sold her away without her consent; now, her new family, is not too pleased with her unenthusiastic nature. At first, the family does try to please her and keep her comfortable, but the small acts of kindness fade away rather quickly and are replaced with a lot of emotional abuse.
It seems that they don’t even realize she didn’t want this life and they automatically assume she is something of a snobby American.
Her husband Amin seems nice enough at first but the pressure of his family causes him to make one horrible decision: to make their marriage official. It’s not graphic, but it’s very triggering for obvious reasons.
Your heart breaks at new levels for our narrator and you begin to believe it couldn’t get any worse. When Naila learns she is pregnant, she swears she could see a ghost while getting groceries one day: Saif.
Her love, her boyfriend from back home, has come looking for her–with his father–to help her escape. They plan a way out and with the help of his family, we can finally see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Possibilities of a future. Saif is so caring and insists he will take care of her regardless of her impending pregnancy and the life she was forced into.
But people nearby begin to grow suspicious. Naila’s life is threatened once more as people watch her, as threats arise from Amin’s family and rumors of infidelity. After being hurt in all the ways possible, we begin to wonder if there is any way for our girl to [truly] escape.
Although she does, although we do get a somewhat happy ending, the scars will remain on Naila’s heart forever. This isn’t an easy story to read. It’s an explosion of emotion and hardships and romance and fear. I can say this confidently: her story is one of love and strength and bravery and resilience.
Aisha will tug on your heartstrings with the truths of life and the fear that comes with losing control of who you are meant to be. Are our fates 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."
Aisha Saeed is also a member over at the much buzzed about campaign We Need Diverse Books whom you should look into immediately if you are unfamiliar with. Her author note and resources at the end of Written in the Stars are important to read and a serious necessity.