A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school. You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.
3.5 stars, rounded to three
I have fairly mixed thoughts on this book, so please bear with me as I try to gather them into some semblance of a review.
I really enjoyed the characters in this book. We follow four main perspectives: Zarin, the main character; Porus, Zarin’s childhood friend she reconnects with as a teenager; Mishal, a girl who goes to school with Zarin and her enemy; and Farhan, the head boy and local heartthrob. They were all great, well-written, real characters. They all felt like real people I knew or could know. They all had a lot of depth and were really interesting to read about. Even though the story is centred around Zarin, we still get glimpses of everyone else’s life, which made them feel more real and allowed the reader to understand each character’s perspective more. The character development they all go through was also fantastic, and some of the best I’ve read in a YA book.
The side characters were also all fantastic and really added to the story. The familial relationships in particular are great. Zarin’s relationship with her aunt and uncle, as well as Mishal’s relationship with her parents and brother, felt real and were really well-written. The exploration of family was really interesting and I really enjoyed it.
I also thought the plot was really interesting. The book starts with a prologue in which Zarin and Porus dying in a car crash and observing their corpses and the scene around them. The book then begins, going back and following them up to the point of the crash, and then a tiny bit after as well. So while the book is very character-focused and light on plot, knowing Porus and Zarin’s ending made it ominous. It made me want to get to the end to know what happened. The descriptions of day-to-day life were also super realistic. It helped the characters feel more relatable.
There was also a lot of interesting exploration about culture, religion, and societal expectations and the impacts of those on our life. It was really interesting to read about Zarin and Mishal, two women living in Saudi Arabia, and their struggles and how they internalized societal expectations. Everything was subtle and the author wasn’t trying to shove a message down the reader’s throat.
The book is really dark and covers a lot of dark topics, which was a little surprising for a young adult novel. This isn’t to suggest that YA books can’t explore dark topics; they obviously can and should. But this book covered a lot, very explicitly. So it just seemed like a lot for a YA book. Everything was handled well and respectfully, but definitely look up trigger warnings before reading.
All that being said, there was just something about this book that didn’t click for me. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the slow pace, but I had to force myself to read it. I would have to tell myself “just finish this chapter, then you can be done for the day” or “this chapter is only nine pages long, just read it”. I found it so hard to get absorbed and to just read this book. So while I think it’s really well-written and has some of the best, most complex characters and discussions of a YA novel, I just didn’t enjoy reading it. I enjoyed the last 25%, but it took me about four days to read the first maybe 250 pages.
I would still highly recommend it, though, for all the positives I described. It’s definitely worth the read, and I’m glad to have read it.
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Do you plan on reading it? Let me know!