A Girl Like That
By Tanaz Bhathena
Genre: Contemporary/YA Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: No
QUILTBAG Minor Character: No
Main Character of Color: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: It begins at the end: a sudden and tragic car accident, two dead teenagers, and the religious police asking questions. The dead teenage girl, Zarin Wadie, is the object of much speculation and gossip in school. But who was she? How did she and Porus, the 18 year old male driver, come to be in the car that day? What does it mean to be a girl, let alone a girl like that? Weaved between multiple points of view over time, the reader will discover who Zarin was, even if it is too late for the rest of the world to do the same.
Please be advised that this book contains themes of sexual assault and rape, including being drugged. It also includes child abuse and victim blaming. If this content is triggering for you, please take care of your mental health, even if it means avoiding the book. Thank you!
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I have a confession to make: I’ve been meaning to read this book for too long. I knew I would love it, knew that I would have a hard time putting it down, and it really is a little embarrassing that it took me this long to get around to. I was right, though, I did love it. I devoured it, and when I was done, it left me speechless.
To be clear, A Girl Like That is not a particularly easy read. Zarin is a complicated girl. In most of the western world, she might not be the cause of any sort of raised eyebrows. She’s a teenage girl, originally from India, whose mother died so was forced to live with her aunt and uncle. She likes kissing boys, is good at school, and smokes when she’s anxious. Most of us probably knew similar girls in high school.
But living in Saudia Arabia, where girls are expected to have marriages arranged, sometimes to much older men, a girl like Zarin quickly developes a reputation, earned or unearned. While it may be easy for the girls at school to judge her, the truth of Zarin is more complicated. Mostly friendless and always out of place, Zarin must learn to find value in herself if others won’t do it for her.
Because the novel itself weaves in and out of various points of view, it allows the reader to see both the truth of what Zarin is going through and how the lives of others color what they think of her.
I hear what you’re about to say. “Grace, is this another book about understanding people complexly?” Well, yes, it is. Of course it is. Most books are, when you think about it. But beyond that, it is also a book about how understanding ourselves, our worth and our desires, colors our ability to understand others.
Many of the men in the novel feel their worth is tied up in how many girls they can sleep with, how much they can brag to the other boys, how masculine they are, even if that masculinity comes at the price of young women. As a result, the majority of them see Zarin as a means to an end. They might think she’s cool, might even actually like her, but they also speak of her as an object, a thing to be used and tossed aside at will. The exception is Porus, who loves Zarin truly and is unwilling and unable to objectify her.
Likewise, Mishal, the only other woman with a POV in this novel besides Zarin, sees Zarin as a threat. Zarin competes with her academically and, sometimes, holds the attention of Mishal’s brother. Mishal’s dislike of Zarin and other girls, in particular, leads her to write a popular blog about gossip, regardless of whose life she ruins. It is only later that she realizes that doing these things is a mask for how unhappy and uncertain of her own future she is.
A Girl Like That expertly weaves together these stories to help show how we miss the chance to help others when we refuse to help ourselves. If the men in her world had not been so focused on pleasing others, if Mishal had looked inward for her happiness instead of finding it in the pain of others, if Zarin’s aunt had gotten the help she needed for her mental illness, if Zarin had reached out to others, maybe the story would have ended differently. It is both a warning to love ourselves and others better, and a love letter to every girl who has ever been someone else’s cautionary tale.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love A Girl Like That? Consider donating to your local battered women’s shelter or Planned Parenthood. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.