A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena | SLJ Review

Gr 8 Up –When Zarin and her friend Porus die in a car accident in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, everyone, from the religious police to Zarin’s classmates, is suspicious—was Porus one of Zarin’s many romantic liaisons? Only the deceased teens know the truth, and as their spirits hover above the wreckage, they look back on what led up to this point.

redstarBHATHENA, Tanaz. A Girl Like That. 384p. Farrar. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374305444.

Gr 8 Up –When Zarin and her friend Porus die in a car accident in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, everyone, from the religious police to Zarin’s classmates, is suspicious—was Porus one of Zarin’s many romantic liaisons? Only the deceased teens know the truth, and as their spirits hover above the wreckage, they look back on what led up to this point. Raised by her aunt and uncle, Zarin knows that her origins are a shameful secret to her family (“Illegitimate. Half-Hindu. Gangster’s daughter.”). Her domineering aunt, who fears seeing Zarin follow the same path as her “loose” mother, keeps a tight grip on the girl, to no avail. After the teen and her family move from Mumbai, India, to Jeddah, she defies convention, dating boys and smoking. But reconnecting with gentle Porus, who’s been entranced by Zarin since they met as children, helps to soften her hard exterior. Bhathena’s lithe prose effortlessly wends between past and present. This contemplative novel is primarily narrated by the two young people, both outsiders as non-Muslims and Indians in Saudi Arabia, but the author also incorporates the perspectives of “insiders”: Zarin’s ex-boyfriend Abdullah; his righteous sister, Mishal, who bullies Zarin for her wayward behavior; and Farhan, the popular but predatory student on whom Zarin nurses a crush. Though these many voices aren’t always distinct, together they portray a restrictive society that attempts to subdue every woman, whether a stickler for the rules like Mishal, or a rebel like Zarin. VERDICT A powerful debut; for most collections.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2018 issue.

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