For What It's Worth

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

review: a girl like that by tanaz bhathena


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. ~
Goodreads

Source: ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review:
A Girl Like That doesn’t pull any punches right from the first line in the prologue:

“ The wails that Masi let out were so heart-wrenching, you would think I was her only daughter lying dead before her instead of the parasite from her sister’s womb as she had once called me.”

I’m not spoiling anything that isn’t in the summary but the book starts with Zarin and her friend Porus dead – hovering above their car wreck, watching their families mourn and the police make judgement on Zarin’s character rather than investigate the crash. As Zarin points out from her ghostly state – few things rile up the authorities in Saudi Arabia than a girl being in the company of a boy that is not her brother or husband.

We start from the time of death and then the story is told in non-chronological order, describing the events that led to the accident.

You can tell right from the start that Zarin is troubled, haunted and uses indifference and harsh words as a shield to protect herself from all those who have and will fail her. This defense mechanism leads people to unfairly judge her based on rumors and double-standards for girls vs boys.

Bhathena is unflinching in her portrayal of, misogyny, rape culture and the bullying/gossip (from both boys & girls) that happens to a “girl like that”.  She also explores the regional religious beliefs and cultures through a sometimes harsh lens but also with nuance and respect.

There are multiple pov’s. Zarin the MC – who is betrayed, broken and feels unworthy of love or kindness, Porus – the boy who loves Zarin and the only one true friend that she can rely on. To a lesser extent, the pov’s of Farhan a boy who dates Zarin and Mishal  - the sister of another boy Zarin had dated.

Each pov intertwines and adds a layer to the story. Although extremely difficult to read at times, it shows what it’s like for boys to be exposed to the idea that girls should be shamed while boys protected and celebrated and how that affects every step of their lives and expectations for their future.

While I do believe that the added pov’s of Farhan and Mishal provide troubling insight as to how Zarin reaches the point of no return - it also slowed the story somewhat for me. Every pov was relevant – but wasn’t always as compelling as Zarin or Porus.

I felt like I had read a version of this story many times before (even in this non-chronological format just a year ago) but the prose is beautiful and Zarin  a fierce and unforgettable character.

Highlight for content warningsdrugging/attempted date rape/sexual assault, one scene of animal cruelty/death, child abuse, bullying

31 comments:

  1. This sounds like a painful read with a not happy ending, but also an important read. The way women are treated in Saudi Arabia is disturbing and disgusting! I want to wrap these women up in my arms and stone the men responsible for the horrors they live every day. Wonderful review, Karen! :)

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    1. It does have a somewhat hopeful ending. Maybe bittersweet is the right word.

      Culture does play a part in Zarin's story but, honestly, there's nothing that happens to her or how she's treated that I haven't heard or witnessed in the US as well.

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  2. I do not like when it starts like that :/

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  3. Sometimes we meet characters that keep us thinking for days, and this sounds like one of them. Your review is so phenomenal, and I'm glad you shared this poignant novel. Hugs...RO

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  4. What an incredible review this is, Karen! I love the thought you put into the stories. The storyline does sound familiar, though obviously the setting and cultural difference make it sound refreshing and different to me. I'd love to read this (even though sometimes I get confused by multiple POVs in a book--maybe just me!).

    Thanks for sharing! XO

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    1. Thanks Charlotte. I don't think this is a unique story (unfortunately for women) but the author did put her own stamp on it with her intensity and writing style.

      I'm learning with the multiple pov's lol I like 2 - jus tso I can see what the other person is thinking but much more than 3 usually takes away from the story for me.

      In this case, I get why she did it - in addition to the main characters, you get to see the pov of the perpetrator and someone who may end up with a better future because of Zarin's experience. It didn't 100% work for me but it was well done.

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  5. I've seen this one around but I didn't realize what it was about. It does seem like a similar story to others out there, but nevertheless still very much important in this "boys will be boys" world we live in. I like the added layer of the character's culture playing a part too.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. I've read several similar books- The Way I Used to Be is the one I read most recently but this is still very good and I liked how it also showed what goes on in the boys mind. That's not something we see often. It didn't try to excuse him in any way but it's important to see how they view girls and their bodies/sex/culture etc.
      And of course, Porus, who is very kind and not like the other boys at all and Mishal who's views change over the course of the story.

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  6. I don't think I can read this one. I can stomach pain reads, but sometimes painful reads are too much for me and this has so much in it that will trigger me, I think, not to mention the animal cruelty. :( Thanks for reviewing it so I can stay away from it.

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    1. It's a rough book and understandable that you wouldn't be able to read it. I skimmed over the one incident of animal cruelty but the whole book is very raw and unflinching.

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  7. This sounds like it would be a very emotional read.

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  8. I have to be honest, I don't know if I could read this. I feel like I would be way too emotional about it. However, at the same time, it sounds like an amazing story that will leave you thinking about it for days.

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    1. I can't really lie - it's mostly a downer of a book (with a hopeful ending) but very good.

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  9. WOW! I actually haven't read something like this one before because honestly, I'm scared I won't be able to handle it. But reading this review, I guess I am going to be ready soon :)

    Vanessa @ Blushing Geek

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    1. I've read a few and recently so that took away a bit of the impact for me but it's still very well written and relevant

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  10. Wow, what a first line. This seems like it would be such a tough read. Very intense and one that would definitely stay with you. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one, Karen.

    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

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    1. It was Tanya. Really relevant for current conversations though.

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  11. I'm a bit worried about the multiple POVs since that puts me off sometimes (though I'm glad they all give something to the story), but I am SO stoked to read this one. It sounds like it has a bunch of important themes and diversity, so that's always a major plus for me. Awesome review, Karen!

    - Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. I think all the pov's were relevant for reasons I can't really get into without spoiling but when it's over two - it usually bogs down the story or stops me from fully immersing myself into it because I'm constantly shifting around.

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  12. Hoo, those spoilers. I don't know if I could handle this right now. It sounds painful.

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    1. Yeah - it's a rough one. There are hopeful elements but it's just a sad story. Still glad I read it though.

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  13. I saw this one on another bloggers Stack of Five post and it caught my attention. I kind of thought it would be intense and emotional. I definitely want to read it. Thanks, Karen!

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  14. Too many POV's makes me go crazy but this book sounds good!

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  15. Not my fave type of book but it also intrigues me. I think when I feel like I can handle this much emotion I think this is something that I would really end up thinking about for a long while.

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  16. Wow, I'd not heard what this book was about but it sounds brilliant. I love reads like this that make it so people aren't all that they originally appeared. I am interested about what happens in it so I want to check this out.

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  17. Great review! This sounds familiar but different at the same time. I'm looking forward to reading it.

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  18. Well that's quite the way to start a story. Yikes!

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