Thank you to Raincoast Books for a copy of this book to review! I saw it in their preview and it piqued my interest and then I got a chance to meet the author at the OLA conference! I’ve got some time now to write reviews (finished an essay before the due date!) so here we go…
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
Genre: YA Contemporary
A timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved.
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.
This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.
I’ve talked a lot about this one on Twitter and Instagram because I can’t get over the beautiful cover! What you don’t see from the pic here is that the spine and inside cover have a leopard print, and the back of the book has a picture of the same model but only half her face with her glasses off. I love the colours and how unapologetically pink it is, a little insight into the MC’s attitude.
It took me a couple months to read this book because I had to keep putting it down to focus on school stuff instead. So it sat on my nightstand for a while before I finally had time to sit down for a long period with no distractions. But I really enjoyed it when I read it! The story is told through many different POVs, including Zarin and Porus (it starts with them as ghosts) and we’re able to slowly piece together all of these individuals’ lives and how they all came together.
There’s some mystery here as we try to find out how this car crash happened and everything that led up to it, but it’s really more of a story about teenage girls growing up. Though it’s set in Saudi Arabia and some of their specific cultural customs are present in the book, a lot of the major themes throughout felt like they could be applied anywhere. Bullying in particular was a big part of these characters’ lives and the ways that this became part of each of the character’s lives, whether as victim or instigator. There was also some discussion of sexual assault, and the feelings of shame and guilt that came out of that, and all of this compounded as the characters tried to come to terms with what had happened and all the other stresses in their lives.
It was hard reading this because you know from the first page that Zarin and Porus will die, but it almost made it more difficult to read their story because I knew neither of them would get a happy ending. I was getting more and more invested in these characters and by the end I felt sick to my stomach because I knew what was coming.
For some critique though, I’m actually not the best suited to discuss this so I’ve linked an #ownvoices reviewer below. The MC in the book is Zoroastrian and the author is as well and this felt like it was given appropriate space for discussion and development to help readers with a fuller understanding.
However, the Muslim rep was more problematic. I’m not Muslim so I really can’t say how well it was handled but some of it was rubbing me the wrong way, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. This reviewer shared her comments from an #ownvoices perspective and I’m grateful for that because she can identify the problems I couldn’t, so definitely check out her review for more in-depth thoughts. There are few Muslim characters present in this book who have redeeming qualities, and unfortunately they feel posed very much as the villain.
The discussion of these broader themes of bullying and sexual assault that transcend cultural and national boundaries really made this book a powerful read, but the portrayals of the specific cultures left a lot to be desired and offered some pretty damaging representation.
About the Author:
I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.