Review: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

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.

Title: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
Publication date: March 24, 2015

I think I already had Written in the Stars on my Goodreads TBR, but I had completely forgotten about its existence until a recent Top Ten Tuesday about books set outside of the US. I saw it on several lists that day and I ended up ordering it from the library. I’m glad I happened to do that TTT and visit those posts, because I really liked the book. It was hard to put down. I liked learning about Naila’s cultural heritage and her visit to Pakistan. I don’t read many books set outside the US, so it was nice to try something different.

That said, the writing is very…simplistic. It’s like it’s been dumbed down for its audience. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing. The most disappointing thing about this book is not the arranged marriage (because I knew that going in) but that Naila has no personality. Here’s what I know about Naila from the beginning of the book: she has a best friend named Carla, she has a secret boyfriend named Saif, her parents are very conservative and strict, and she wants to be a doctor. Her parents take her to Pakistan very quickly, before I ever got to know anything else about her.

What does she see in Saif? Hell if I know. We never get to know the guy. They’ve been together for a year when the book starts but, because of her parents’ rules, they get to spend half an hour every day before school together, in secret. (Of course this is much more time than she gets with Amin, and she has to marry him.) Saif, too, is Pakistani-American, but his parents are “unable to control their children” and his sister has married a guy named Justin. The community is properly shocked and horrified, and Saif’s family is now to be avoided. So…is that why Naila likes him, because it’s her way of rebelling? Or do they have common interests?

She wants to be a doctor, but why? She never shows any true interest in science or medicine (or anything else, actually). It could be because she truly does love science. Or it could because it’s the only way she can think of to put off marriage for a lot of years (and I have my doubts that it would work, even if she hadn’t been taken to Pakistan). There’s no way to tell either way.

But like I said, I liked this book a lot. I’m willing to overlook the problems because the story itself was so interesting. Pakistan and the culture (Naila’s religion is never mentioned) are not something I know a lot about, but from what I read in Written in the Stars, it’s not a life I would want for myself, and it’s not what Naila wants either. As restricted as she was at home in Florida, that was nothing compared to life in Pakistan. Her uncle is a monster and for some reason he seemed to be running the show in Pakistan, which confused me a little. Her parents were right there! I mean, not that they had a different idea than he did, but they weren’t as outwardly abusive. I don’t think Naila was ever afraid of her parents even when they disagreed with her.

On the other hand, maybe she should have been. They do, as I mentioned, have the same beliefs as the uncle, and they’re the ones who made the decision to return to Pakistan in the first place. They knew what they were doing, at some point if not at the beginning, and they believed it was the right thing to do.

The story of Written in the Stars more than makes up for the weak characters. If only those characters had been more fully developed, this would have been a five star book.

4 stars