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A Girl Like That

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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.

378 pages, Hardcover

First published February 27, 2018

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About the author

Tanaz Bhathena

6 books637 followers
Tanaz Bhathena is an award-winning Zoroastrian author of fantasy and contemporary fiction. Her books include Of Light and Shadow, the White Pine Award winning novel, Hunted by the Sky, and The Beauty of the Moment, which won the Nautilus Gold Award for Young Adult Fiction. Her acclaimed debut, A Girl Like That, was named a Best Book of the Year by numerous outlets including The Globe and Mail, Seventeen, and The Times of India.

NOTE: I don't use Goodreads frequently; please feel free to connect with me through my website.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 892 reviews
Profile Image for Elena May.
Author 13 books697 followers
February 16, 2020
What is happening? Why am I reading a contemporary teen drama? And why am I enjoying it so much??

Okay, “enjoying” is a strange word here. It’s a sad, heartbreaking book. And yet, I was so immersed in the story that I stayed up late at night reading, and, more shockingly, I got up early to squeeze in an hour or two of reading before going to work. And I’m not a morning person.

I’m normally not into contemporary realistic teen stories. Historical? Sure! Fantasy or sci fi? Perfect! But contemporary? For some reason, I find it hard to relate to the characters as I feel the problems and challenges I was facing at that age were quite different. And that’s puzzling – I usually have no trouble at all relating to characters with vastly different life experiences, but there is something about contemporary teen books that just doesn’t work for me for reasons I can’t entirely explain.

Until now. Because this book is perfect. The characters and their stories are so vivid and well developed, and even if some of them are terrible people, I had no problem getting into their heads and understanding their struggles.

But why did I pick up a contemporary teen book in the first place?

First, this story set in Saudi Arabia. I am well aware that most of the information I get on this country on a regular basis is really biased – one of my colleagues that I hang out with the most nowadays is from Iran, and, somehow, he manages to twist every single topic into a lecture how Saudi is the absolute worst, while Iran is the most progressive country ever (let’s just say we’ve had a couple of debates on that last point.) As you can imagine, it’s not the most impartial view, and I was looking for a more realistic portrayal.

Second, it’s from the point of view of an Indian expat. Often, immigrants and expats have a unique view on the majority culture, since we tend to overanalyze it and try to figure out how to fit in, or if we want to fit in at all. I imagined an expat would have noticed peculiarities about Saudi culture that a local would have taken for granted, and I was curious what these would be.

Honestly, I didn’t get much on that second point. All the characters in this book live in a South Asian expat bubble, where everyone they interact with – classmates, teachers, doctors, shopkeepers – are expats such as them. The only Saudi characters we meet are two kids from a mixed marriage and their father. But that’s fascinating on its own; how this micro-culture functions within the larger framework of customs and regulations set up by the Saudi people and government. It’s like we have a mini-India, and mini-Pakistan and Bangladesh, and an even smaller Parsi minority, and people who are trying to live their lives in a mixture of their own traditions and the foreign.

All characters are exceptionally well written. I’m amazed at how in such a small book the author manages to seamlessly squeeze in numerous flashbacks that paint a complete picture of everyone’s life. It’s like we’ve know all about these people from childhood until now. And yes, all characters we see are very flawed, and some are absolutely despicable people, and yet one can’t stop reading.

And the city of Jeddah? Wow! It’s so rare that an author can make the setting become a character in its own right. Jeddah comes alive, with its landmarks, schools, residential buildings, parking lots, hospitals, malls, coastline, shops, the famous fountain. It’s a complete picture of a city, and one can easily imagine how people live there. And in the chapters where we fly over to Mumbai, the descriptions are just as great.

And, of course, the cars. It’s astonishing how much of this story happens inside cars. And it makes sense. Jeddah reminds me of various places I’ve seen across Asia and North America that not only have no public transport, but also no infrastructure for walking, so one has to drive even over short distances. (And, even when walking is physically possible, it’s strange and suspicious. Back when I was studying in the US, I lived on an isolated college campus. During breaks, when the dining hall was closed and most of the local students were off to visit families, my only way to get food was walking to a small supermarket for an hour (one way) through the woods. The first time I did it, I got stopped by a police car for questioning. And when I told the officers I didn’t have a car, they didn’t believe me!)

But in Jeddah, the problem goes beyond no public transport. This story is taking place before June 24, 2018, when women in Saudi Arabia finally gained the right to drive. And this means that whenever any woman in this book needs to go anywhere, she needs her brother, or husband, or father, or son, or other close male relative, to drive her. That plays a part in the characters’ lives, and we see how they have to work around it. No wonder all the dates in this book take place in a car.

While the story focuses on minority characters, we still learn bits and pieces about Saudi society. For example, I learned that guest workers are treated decently, in contrast to other Gulf States, such as Qatar and the UAE. Characters are flying back and forth to India with no mention of confiscated passports. A character working at a deli muses that if he loses his job, he can live for a couple of months off savings. The characters have many problems, but money isn’t one of them; poverty is never mentioned as a threat hanging over their lives. None of the characters has a job that is considered physically dangerous, again, unlike Qatar and Dubai which continue to make headlines about horrible treatment of migrant workers.

The one single thing that bugged me was Porus’s insta-love towards Zarin. And it happens twice – first in Mumbai, when she is 4 and he is 6 or 7 (!) and then over a decade later in Jeddah. It wasn’t enough to distract me from the story, but it might have been better if we’d seen more of Porus’s thoughts on the matter.

Again, this is not a happy tale, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. Be mindful of all the warnings. But if you think you can handle it, it’s worth the heartbreak!
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,097 reviews17.7k followers
May 6, 2019
A Girl Like That begins as we see Zarin and Porus holding hands and walking off to their deaths. It’s a moment that is horrible and beautiful all at once, and the book never quite stops being that.

So first of all, this is one of the most intense & heartbreaking books I have read, ever, and I think that's worth knowing going in. But at the same time, it’s an incredibly important book about how the culture of Saudi Arabia is tailor-made to alienate its people; how it teaches boy that sexual assault is right, just as in America; how it teaches girls that their only power is in backstabbing; how it doesn’t give others the money to make a living; how it forces girls into the role of victim and outsider.

There are four narrators to this book, and then several important side characters - one of the narrators, if I’m being honest, made literally no impact on me and could have been replaced by a different side character and I would have liked it far more. But I’m going to be honest, I was most compelled by two narrators.

Zarin’s arc is a gorgeous story about how we can internalize our own belief that we are lesser, that we are not worth love, because we don't fit cultural norms or we don't keep our mouths quiet as women or because we are simply outsiders in a country with a different majority. As a Zoroastrian victim of abuse, there is a suffocated & claustrophobic quality to her writing, as she feels herself drowning in an environment where she cannot be herself. I… love Zarin. Like, I would give my life for Zarin. She’s such a fantastic character and I adore her. She has a moment where she gets to stand up, and it is everything. It is worth the entire book.

Mishal’s arc is far more complex, and I really think I would need to reread this to analyze the whole thing because it took me a while to love her. But by the end of this book, I was… incredibly invested in Mishal. She’s a Muslim girl who has internalized a belief in her own lack of power, so she uses her power in subversive ways - she runs a tumblr blog for school gossip @blueniqab, and she gossips, and she tries to wield power in all the subtle ways, but she is struggling and I love it. Her story is far less of a tragedy than perhaps any other character within this book and I sort of… love that. I love that Tanaz Bhathena is so willing to look at her actions and realize they were bad but also understand them and not make her suffer more. Because I love Mishal.

I do want to note that at least one Muslim reviewer has pointed out her dislike of the portrayal of Islam and Saudi Arabia by an author who is Zoroastrian, not Muslim. Which I… both get and don’t get. There’s an implication in one of these reviews that the author knows nothing about Saudi Arabia, which is incorrect - Tanez Bhathena actually grew up in Saudi Arabia, as stated in her author bio. This review also states that there are no sympathetic Muslim characters, which is somehow both a fair reading and absolutely not my personal experience with the book. None of these characters, besides maybe Porus, are actually good people. But Mishal is Muslim and an incredibly sympathetic character - I think you might be able to tell she was my favorite? (Her brother, Abdhullah, was also a character I found a lot of sympathy for.)

I will also say that the romance between Zarin and Porus, though really, really sweet, went too close [for me] to the love-cures-abuse trope. This is a really big and recurring problem in YA and I really want it to stop. And as my trusted reviewer friend Ilsa pointed out, there are literally no positive relationships in this book besides one m/f ship, which did bother me.

But for me personally, this was an intense, heartbreaking book about rape culture and cultural alienation and internalization of a belief that we are lesser, that we are undeserving, and I adored it. Mishal and Zarin especially will stay with me for a very, very long time. A Girl Like That is an absolutely horrifying book and I am so glad I read it.

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Profile Image for Noor .
39 reviews32 followers
March 21, 2018
This is officially the worst book I’ve read, ever, which is not something I say lightly. It’s a contemporary young adult novel set in Saudi Arabia that’s supposedly meant to bravely expose rape culture, but all it does is expose the author’s own islamophobia and girl-on-girl hate. Now, it’s a subtle islamophobia, and I suppose a subtle hate if you’re not looking for it, and maybe that’s why it’s gone largely unnoticed so far. But if anything, it’s more glaringly harmful for its subtlety. Let me take you on a tour through this novel, across the dozens upon dozens of quotes and bookmarked pages, and maybe I’ll be able to make myself a little more clear.

Let’s begin with the fact that Tanaz Bhathena clearly did no research when it came to Islam – which is sort of concerning considering she wrote an entire novel set in an Islamic country. Oh, sure, it seems she knows lots when it comes to the religious police, throwing around everyone’s favourite word, Sharia law, but the history? Apparently the accurate portrayal of that is beyond her. She seems to know a wonderful amount about bridges in hell and eternal damnation, but when it comes to common burial practices? No, not possible, sorry.

Okay, whatever, these are little things, right? Who cares if she doesn’t know that Muslims don’t get buried in coffins or that the three wise men were indeed Zoroastrian priests, that’s not harmful is it? Well, if only it ended there, I could have forgiven this book its shortcomings and moved on with my life.

Let’s move on to the actual Muslim characters portrayed in the novel, shall we? The main character, Zarin, is Zoroastrian, as is the love interest, Porus. The main Muslim characters you see throughout the novel are 1) the religious police 2) Mishal’s family and 3) Farhan’s family. And as far as fucked up representations go, these three really take the cake.

The religious police: do I really need to say much about them? It seems pretty self-explanatory. They’re a constant threat lurking throughout the novel – reminders that girls must cover up their hair, that unchaperoned interactions between unrelated boys and girls are Not Allowed (funny, that this is only mentioned when Zarin is with other boys, but never when she’s with Perfect Porus), and… that’s pretty much it. Is there any talk of the Muslims who are oppressed by the religious police for their beliefs? The fact that the religious police don’t follow any religion, and are pretty much one step short of being ISIS? Of course not, that would be an almost… positive and accurate portrayal of Islam wouldn’t it? And we can’t have that, obviously. But, ultimately, the religious police are a background thing – they don’t really take centre stage in this novel. That’s where the two families come in.

Enter: the two Muslim families closest to the heart of the story. In one, you’ve got a man who abandoned his first wife for a second, because polygamy is a totally common and normal thing (spoiler: it’s not). You have Mishal, a sixteen-year-old girl whose marriage prospects are “limited to creepy grooms nearly twice or thrice [her] age.” (spoiler: this is also not common, despite what every wonderful portrayal of the middle east would have you think). Mishal, whose brother tells her, after his friend attempts to assault her, “Have you learned nothing about men and the necessity of a proper hijab? Or did you want his attention?”. A brother who says that “A woman’s honor is like a tightly wrapped sweet. If you unwrap a sweet and leave it lying around, you expose it to everything out there. If, by accident, it falls into the dirt – tell me, Mishal, will anyone want to eat it?” Mishal, who lives in a society that believes that sex is something that a girl should “[suffer] through like a proper virgin.” (spoiler: also not true). All this, while Abdullah reads porn magazines, smokes, dates multiple girls, and Mishal the prude watches, scandalized. Not to mention the fact that since their father moved out to live with his new wife, he’s legally the “guardian of the household” and this is something that’s not questioned, even once, by anyone. What a great, wonderful, functional family, right? What a fantastically positive portrayal. But it gets worse.

Farhan’s family is where things start to get properly disgusting. How is it first introduced? Here are the actual first lines of Farhan’s point of view in the entire book, no joke: “They were going at it like dogs, Abba and the maid. My father, who my mother said I would look like when I got older – tall, dark, and handsome – banging the maid so hard that he banged the headboard against the wall and left a mark in the paint.” Yeah, a great start, isn’t it? So aside from a cheating father (because the only two Muslim fathers portrayed in the novel have to be these disgusting men who can’t possibly have a healthy relationship with a single wife, it’s impossible), you have the disgustingness that is Farhan himself. Farhan, who’s most renowned as being the school heartthrob. But unlike your usual YA contemporary heartthrob, because all these characters are Muslim, and thus must be degenerate somehow, right, this one drugs girls to get with them, sexually assaults them, and rapes them. On a regular basis. How wonderful, right?

Thus ends the part where I talk about how terrible each of these characters are, and we can move on to more of the general horrors that make up this book. If my above description hasn’t been clear enough, I’m just going to say it: you have the female characters portrayed as these sexually repressed individuals, completely lacking agency, while pretty much the only reason any of the male characters (aside from Perfect Porus, who wants to get to know Zarin for who she is, like the great non-Muslim guy he is) live is for sex.

In general, this book’s obsession with sex is seriously ridiculous. The entire first third of the novel, the only things that happen are that different people have sex, think about having sex, or judge other people for having sex – that is literally it, I’m not exaggerating in the least. Yes, teenagers are hormonal. Yes, they think about having sex a lot. But that is literally the only thing these characters are characterized by. None of the girls have any hobbies, other than gossiping about boys and hating on other girls (and by other girls I mean Zarin). There is not a single healthy girl-girl relationship in the whole book. In fact, the only relationship in the whole book that can actually be termed healthy is the one between Zarin and Porus. Funny, isn’t it?

There’s a lot more I could go into, honestly – the astonishing relationship between Zarin and her aunt (who started shaming her niece at the age of four for “spreading her legs and sitting like a boy”), the slut-shaming rampant throughout the whole book, the idea that a girl has to bleed when she loses her virginity, the inevitability of arranged marriage for not only Mishal but all the female characters, the objectification of girls for their boobs (seriously, there is a concerning hyperfixation on boobs for some reason, you’d think this was written by a white man because this is almost titting down stairs level boobery), a debate that only seems to show domestic abuse as normalized in this society, and more.

I can hardly begin to explain how damaging something like this is – a book that’s being lauded as this brave exposure of misogyny and rape culture, but is written in such bad taste. The context of this book makes the whole discussion fraught with damaging implications, and the lack of any good, or positive, or normal characters in the whole book to counterbalance all the shitty ones is really inexcusable.

In conclusion, this book is cancelled.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,560 followers
June 16, 2017
Phew. That was a book that required 100% of my attention. It wasn't an easy read for me, but definitely a worthwhile one. I feel like this story is really important and will stay with me for a long time.
155 reviews261 followers
June 1, 2018
Trigger Warning Bullying, Sexual Abuse, Domestic Abuse
When people say you’re wrong so many times over so many years, when they call you a bad person, you begin to believe them. You begin to hide your face again – to anyone – you will be judged. Sometimes, it gets so bad that you begin to wonder if life is worth living.

Zarin Wadia was a 16 year-old Zoroastrian from Mumbai who's living in Jeddah with her aunt and uncle. Her mother was a bar dancer and her father was a underworld Mafia Boss. Both of her parents are dead. Her aunt used to hate her mother because of her profession and her marraige and blames Zarin for everything. Her aunt is mentally ill and her uncle doesn't try to protect her. Due to endless tortures abuse inflicted at her home, Zarin become rebellious. She began to date boys and started smoking. First, it was to infuriate her aunt but then it become a way to become something else other then what people tell her to be. She became a target for pupils at school due to her scandals and lies she told them related to ger parents.

The book open with Zarin and her male friend, Porus being dead in a car crash and what follows is the Zarins's story told through multiple POVs including herself, her only friend Porus, and multiple people who had been in her life. Through there eyes, we see Zarin is not just a cold and rebellious girl everyone thought her to be. She is a victim of child abuse, sexism and sexual abuse who's scared and in trauma. She's like every other girl who's frustrated how this world judges boys and girls differently. She's like any other teenager who is curious about love and sex and just trying to find out more.

I mostly don't read contemporaries, because they're set in America and Europe and have completely different cultures which are really difficult to relate to. I live in Pakistan, and this book is the closest I've seen myself represented. Well, not the smoking and boys part, certainly not being Zoroastrian part, but the ways of talking and subtle gestures made this really relatable. I've always thought that bullying was something restricted to American school systems because apparently, in East mostly some people don't go around teasing others like that but this book showed differently. Talking about someone behind their back, calling them names, snickering at them behind the books and hands, giving them cool stares, is all too common in my country too. Sometimes, shamefully I've been a part of this too. This book also discusses rape culture and double standards that are so deeply ingraved in our society. I am really glad the author mentioned the example of uncovered and covered lollipops that some people givesin comparison to veiled and unveiled women. That's the most disgusting way women can be objectified. Seriously, I mostly wear niqab, but even I feel very insulted when such examples are made.

A Girl Like That is ultimately a romance, and here is where it looses a star. Porus was Zarin's childhood friend and they came across each other accidently in Jeddah. Porus eventually fell in love with Zarin, and despite Zarin's continous rude behaviour, didn't leave her, claiming that he remembers that sweet 7 year old Zarin from Mumbai and she's just misunderstood. There are so many things wrong with their romance. First off, how can Porus remember Zarin so vividly? He was 10 year old when they last met. I have trouble remembering someone from two months ago. Secondly, Porus almost obsession with Zarin was unhealthy. I understand their friendship, I understand if Porus wants to protect Zarin from the stupid boys she sees, but he leaves his job for her. I mean, I have many relatives living in Saudia Arab so I know it's not easy for person like Porus who is inexperianced to get a job. Foreigners have to work extremely hard to get decent income in Saudia Arab. Also, he's not alone. He has his mother to feed but he leaves everything so he can marry Zarin. And that's definetly not okay. A mother who have take care of you single handedly after your father's death is more important then a girl. I would have enjoyed it more if they were just good friends who care for each other and not star crossed lovers.

Another thing I don't like in this book was that every other muslim was badly potrayed. It's not suppose to be a happy book, and all characters were really complex, but there wasn't a single good, sane muslim here. Only good character was Porus, and as I explained above, he was just way too good. Other muslim people were Abdullah and Mishal, who were brother and sister, and Farhan, and they were assholes. They were realisticly potrayed, yes, I mean I have came across fair share of stupid men and women who use religion to disguise their misgony, but it didn't help that there wasn't a single sane, happy muslim character who (a) doesn't want to go into Zarin's pants, (b) was making fun of her and (c) belongs to good, sane, not abusive families.

Overall, it's a very powerful and very important book that will leave an lasting impact on you. If there were just few good muslim characters and some more good representation of Jeddah, it would have gained a 5 star. I wish I had read it in my school years.I would recommend it to curious and confused teenagers, especially of Eastern heritage.
September 21, 2020

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There were a lot of upcoming titles for 2018 with PoC leads that I was highly anticipating, and Tanaz Bhathena's A GIRL LIKE THAT was one of them. All I knew about it was that it was set in Saudi Arabia(!) and featured a female protagonist who was being slut-shamed for not fitting in with cultural norms, despite other much more interesting aspects of her life, like being an Indian Zoroastrian(!), and both a good student and a rebel.

I did not read the summary or the reviews very carefully beforehand, so you can imagine my SHOCK when in the first chapter I find that this is like a BEFORE I FALL set in the Middle East: Zarin and her male friend, Porus, are both dead, standing over their bodies in spirit as their friends, family, and the police examine the wreckage and decide where to place the blame.

The story then goes back and forth in the timeline. We get a better picture of what Zarin was like, and the role her classmates's bullying played in how she ended up. Zarin's parents were both criminals who are now dead, and she lives with an aunt and uncle who only really grudgingly tolerate her presence in their house (her aunt is mentally ill and abuses her physically; her uncle is an enabler who neither seeks his wife help nor gives his niece the protection she needs). Zarin started looking at boys because it made her aunt angry, but after a while it becomes a way to rebel. She chafes at the double-standards in her society that lets men do whatever they want, but dictates that a woman must be held responsible for guarding against unwanted detention. She goes through several boyfriends - two of them are absolute d-bags, the only difference between them is that one plays by society's rules for objectifying women and the other doesn't - and the third loves her and by the end of the story, it's clear that he would do anything for her.

Obviously, this is a very upsetting story and given the beginning, it's pretty obvious that it isn't going to have a happy ending. There are trigger warnings across the board, because the content in this book runs the gamut of rape, domestic abuse, colorism, racism, mental illness, bullying, slut-shaming, rape culture, and some other stuff that I probably forgot. That said, while this is a book I would never say was "fun" and probably won't ever reread (D:). I would recommend it to pretty much any questing teenager I happened across because the messages it sends are so important. Particularly if you're the type of person who reads stories like these, notices the location, and says to him- or herself, "Whew, I'm glad that type of thing doesn't happen here (in "my" country)." Then you have to read this book. Consider it assigned reading on how to be a better human being.

Here's the thing: the objectification of women and the blaming of the victim is not exclusive to certain regions. It is a global epidemic, and while it might be better or worse in certain regions, nobody has it down pat, so in my opinion nobody should read about these issues and walk away feeling smug. We know we live in an unequal society when we hear about a woman who was a victim of sexual assault and one of the first things we ask is, "What was she wearing? What was she doing out late at night?" We know we live in an unfair society when people publish PSAs about how women can avoid being raped when they go out at night - instead of publishing PSAs telling men (or anyone) not to be fucking rapists. We know we live in a society that blames its victims when we hear about bullying incidents and think, "Well, they shouldn't have let it get so bad. They should have reported it to the teacher. Maybe they had something to hide or are doing it for the attention."

The bullying in A GIRL LIKE THAT is really well done in this book - and I could see some critics saying that nothing the girls did was really that bad... but it doesn't have to be. People who are really successful bullies don't have to throw your shoes on the school roof or even do something ridiculous like hire gang members to beat you up (a shockingly common trope in shoujo manga). All they have to do is get inside your head and make you doubt, question, and hate yourself, and you'll do 90% of the work for them. That's exactly what Zarin's classmates did. They didn't say a whole lot, but they made sure to be consistent in what they said, and eventually she almost started to take it for granted. That's how I was bullied in high school, too. They made cruel remarks specially tailored for me, and me alone, and went out of their way to assure me that everything I did, thought, and liked made me worthless. And, like most of Zarin's teachers, mine were complicit. Either they did nothing, or they participated in it themselves, or they enabled it by punishing or shaming me instead of the people who were attacking me. My first two years of high school were a special brand of hell, and I had parents who loved me and tried to draw me out. Zarin had absolutely no one, except for Porus, and my heart absolutely ached for that girl, and for everyone else who feels that alone and helpless.

You should definitely read this book. I'm still shaken by the utter unfairness of the ending.

4 to 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Anna Priemaza.
Author 3 books186 followers
April 29, 2017
A GIRL LIKE THAT completely blew me away, but be warned: this book will break your heart a thousand times, so that by the time you’re done reading, a thousand and one little heart pieces will be thrumming in your chest cavity like tiny, weeping hummingbirds.

Abuse. Death. Rape culture. Religion. Bullying. Mental health. Cultural norms. There is so much heaviness in this book, but Tanaz writes about it all with such profound honesty and depth that although you're forced to confront the ugly terribleness of it all on every page, you don't feel burdened down with it. Aside from the fact that your heart constantly breaks, of course.

The book starts with the two main characters already dead, then goes back and tells the story of how it all came to be, so as I read the book, I kept telling myself to not get attached to the characters. “They're going to die; don't get attached” was my mantra. And I failed miserably. Tanaz makes it absolutely impossible to not get attached to these brilliant, complex, flawed but still wonderful characters.

I am completely in awe of this book, and of Tanaz's ability to craft a complex, riveting, vivid, heartbreaking, terrible, honest story. Do not miss reading this one.
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,110 reviews6,574 followers
April 2, 2018
More like a 4.5 stars. This was so different from anything I've ever read before. I learnt so much reading it and it really brought out a lot of different emotions in me!
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
681 reviews3,951 followers
May 5, 2020
"My story is different from Zarin and Mishal's. Yet it does not make their stories any less true, nor does it diminish the reality of living in a world that still defines girls in various ways without letting them define themselves"

The author’s note of this book struck me so much because I thought it so perfectly and so succinctly captured the heart of this book – women existing as whole, oftentimes messy people who are fighting for respect and the right to exist outside of what society has dictated for them. Set in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, A Girl Like That explores cultural, religious and national rhetoric and ideas about womanhood. This novel focusses particularly on rape culture and ideas about female sexuality, and how the ongoing social perpetuation of these ideas limits and harms women.

The story is witnessed by the ghost of Zarin Wadia, killed in a car crash with her best friend Porus. We follow the events leading up to the crash, with Zarin serving as a spectral presence. The story is about her – but you can never quite forget she’s dead. This book feels heavy with hauntings, not only the site of Zarin and Porus’ death but also the various girls throughout the story. They’re haunted by the social idealisation of their womanhood, by the weight of expectation on their shoulders, and by their histories which often erupt, violently and messily, into the present.

❝ It is strange, I thought, how we always recognize our best memories in hindsight ❞

One thing I loved about this book was its insistence on portraying it’s central female characters as imperfect and oftentimes messy, mean, or even cruel. I liked how, corresponding to this, the narrative also insisted on showing that these girls deserve to be respected and own their personhood regardless of their personal failings.

These women all existed within the social framework in different ways, some rebelling against it like Zarin, others falling into and thus oftentimes perpetuating, like Mishal. But the narrative doesn’t wholly condemn them because it recognises sixteen-year-old girls are imperfect people, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to overthrow a system which is so thoroughly and aggressively designed to limit them. The hopelessness and the dread that permeates this book felt heavy, and yet necessary for the story that Bhathena was trying to tell.

I also enjoyed reading this for the depiction of Saudi Arabia. I believe this may be the only book I’ve ever read set in The Kingdom, and I found the setting highly interesting because of it. Bhathena grew up in Jeddah, the setting of this book and I think it shows in the crafting of some settings, that blend of love, hate and nostalgia for a hometown that I can recognise. The main character is also Zoroastrian, a religion I had never even heard of. Learning new things through fiction is one of my most favourite things so I was immensely pleased that I had so many learning experiences through this book.

❝ When people say you’re wrong so many times over so many years, when they call you a bad person, you begin to believe them. You begin to hide your face again – to anyone – you will be judged. Sometimes, it gets so bad that you begin to wonder if life is worth living ❞

In terms of critiques, I do think this book had some pacing and story set up issues. The beginning is slow and confusing, with too many names and characters thrown at you at once.

I also thought some storylines were done a lot better than others. The perspective of two of the make characters added little of interest to the narrative, and I thought it would have been more impactful to stick with Zarin and Mishal. I also think some discussions were a little underdone, though this is a relatively short book so I also think given the page count it’s understandable.

Overall, I thought this was a really powerful and unique YA contemporary. Few books come to mind to compare this to, because I feel it was writing in a setting and a culture that is so underrepresented in mainstream YA. Bhathena’s attempt to tackle gender politics and the societal construction of womanhood, and the expectations of this construction, was carefully and cleverly done, and I applaud her for writing so many complex, interesting and imperfect female characters while relentlessly and imploringly showing the reader their humanity, their value, and their right to define themselves.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,475 reviews2,410 followers
July 29, 2022
***one of my oldest reviews***

✴️Genre: YA/Teen/Romance/fiction ✴️Deals with : Abuse, child neglect, rape, race, death, teenage insecurities.

☑️ The story in brief:
Zarin is a 16 year old orphan living with her aunt who herself is facing mental health issues. The only highlight in the everyday life is the husband of her aunt who shows understanding & support when it becomes unbearable for Zarin when it comes to the everyday taunts of her aunt; haunting her whenever possible how much of a disgrace to her family her mother turned out to be.

Her aunt becomes paranoid when it comes to Zarin making friends especially boys ...even looking at them is forbidden.

Tired of all this, she rebels in her own ways whenever possible. Going out on forbidden dates, hanging out late on pretext of schoolwork & adopting addictive habits that she knows she should not have.

Zarin is shown as a girl who everyone is interested in. Guys notice her wherever she goes. Gossips circulate about her in social media especially more after she became all aloop after an incident.

Parts if it is true but most exaggerated. Life goes predictably bad for her.

Porus loves her as she is after knowing everything about her.
The book starts with death & ends with death.
➡️The plot is not engaging enough.
➡️The main character is not portrayed as is shown in the blurp.
➡️ Violence & abuse all over.
➡️ Overhyped book.

🌡️Not recommended. Not worth the hype👎
Profile Image for Saajid Hosein.
129 reviews705 followers
June 25, 2018
"Hola, can you help me find my weave?"

- Dora, the shookethed explorer (2018).
Profile Image for Carlie Sorosiak.
Author 9 books266 followers
February 11, 2017
 photo giphy 49_zpsdgianymz.gif

A Girl Like That completely broke my heart in a million ways, some expected and others not. I was not prepared for the sheer beauty of this writing, which—coupled with the plot—tore me to pieces yet also left me with a profound sense of hope. Every sentence is so carefully constructed, but at the same time, everything feels effortless and smooth. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Tanaz’s writing is of the most elegant I’ve ever read in YA.

You will love some of these characters. You will hate some of these characters. But above all, you will form an unbreakable attachment to their complexity and realness. The book begins with a terrible road accident, narrated by two teenagers who are newly dead. You know this from the beginning, and yet Tanaz’s writing is so unbelievably special that I couldn’t help but bond with them, even when I knew their eventual fate.

This is an important book, and it’s also a difficult one: difficult in that it exposes the reader to a variety of topics (rape culture, religious expectations, domestic abuse) that other writers may not tackle so openly, so courageously, and with such grace. It is shocking and eye opening and honest and so very needed. It’s also an #ownvoices novel, which I especially appreciate.

I recommend A Girl Like That without hesitation for any reader who wants to dive head first into a complex tale of love, religion, and culture.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 18 books2,499 followers
September 14, 2018
WOW. Not that I wasn't expecting the book to be really good, but it was just...really good in ways I wasn't expecting. There's so much interesting discussion of cultural nuance re: India and the Middle East and being an expat and mental health and sexism and different religions that rarely get rep in YA (I had incorrectly assumed the main character would be Muslim; she is in fact Zoroastrian) and then on top of that you get the whole BEFORE I FALL/IF I STAY conceit and a book that stands up there with some of the best #MeToo YAs and there is just so much interesting characterization, especially with 4 POVs being juggled and a decent amount of insight into a 5th character, and...man. Yeah. Way to enter YA with a bang, Tanaz Bhathena. I look forward to literally whatever you bring to the table next.

Profile Image for S.A. Chakraborty.
Author 9 books10.8k followers
March 1, 2018
I have been looking forward to this book for over a year, and it left me just as emotionally devastated as I expected. This is a heavy book, one that left me continuously having to remind myself that these people were not real and I should not be grieving them like they were... but damn. A beautiful, sad story about young love but also the terrible ways we box in both our girls and boys with adult insecurities around sex and honor. One of those stories that will haunt me for a long time.
Profile Image for Brooke.
284 reviews141 followers
April 6, 2018
1.5 stars

Honestly, I was bored for almost the entirety of the book. Several POVs caused the narrative to spread too thin; too many ideas going on at once. For a novel heavy on rape culture, there is absolutely nothing in the synopsis that tells this. There is one little mention of it before the title page, in little print that can easily be overlooked, especially when using the ebook version. That wasn't enough for me & is very misleading. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I also was a bit confused at some of the lines in here. For example: "Her smile would have given nightmares to diabetics." Um, what?

I had high hopes for this, unfortunately they all fell flat. Giving a generous .5 stars because I did begin to like Zarin towards the end & wanted more of her character, particularly for it to just be from her POV.
509 reviews2,413 followers
April 13, 2018
Well, this book is HEAVY! Lots of dark themes, and the writing made it a bit harder to absorb. That, plus the fact that nothing happens in the entire first half of the book made this so hard to get into, but after a while I think I managed to appreciate this book a lot. Plus I adored the sort-of-love-interest-but-not-really, Porus. ♥

Full review to come!
Profile Image for Romie.
1,094 reviews1,270 followers
March 28, 2018
Trigger warnings:
Sexual Assault — Rape — Child abuse (physical abuse) — Death — Bullying  — Domestic Violence — Graphic Car Accident — Death of a pet — Depression

Author’s Note
My own story is different from Zarin’s and Mishal’s. Yet it does not make their stories any less true, nor does it diminish the reality of living in a world that still defines girls in various ways without letting them define themselves.
This book is a love letter to them all.

I really have to start reading the synopsis of the books I buy. This is truly a book I wanted to read first for the absolutely gorgeous cover … shame, Romie. But for once, the outside matches the inside. I added this book to my tbr first and foremost because the cover looked extremely pretty and I was glad to see a woman of colour on it, and then with my book club we decided to make it one of our April BOTM. That was really exciting considering I just needed an excuse to read it.

Not knowing what I was getting myself into made this book even more impactful to me. I had no idea the story would be about a dead girl. Which it is. The book opens our protagonist’s death in a car crash. Zarin is a 16 years old girl from Mumbai living in Saudi Arabia with her aunt and uncle. Her mother died when she was 4, she left for Saudi Arabia when she was 7, everything happened pretty fast. There, she tried to be someone else, not half Hindu, not an orphan, not someone her aunt is beating when she does something her aunt doesn’t agree with. But Zarin learns pretty fast that her past doesn’t want to let her go, it follows her wherever she goes, relentlessly. There, she goes to a school for expatriated children, especially Indian or Syrian children, but let’s say making friends isn’t something she’s good at. People see her as a liar for not telling about her mom’s death, they see her someone who thinks too much of herself, a bad person, someone with a bad influence who likes to smoke and hook up with boys in their cars. She is so much more than that.

This book is also, yes, a love story. Zarin isn’t the only in the car when the accident happens, there is also Porus, the boy she met when she was 4 and met again when she was 16. He dies as well. And we know from the beginning that what unites both Zarin and Porus together is more than a simple friendship. And if this book is a love story between two non Muslim teenagers and takes place in Saudi Arabia, it would be impossible to talk about this book without mentioning the very important feminist aspect of it. This book deals with misogyny, it tells the story of girls who are oppressed by the men in their lives, girls who are seen as having less rights than boys, girls who have to play by a different set of rules because they belong to the ‘lesser gender.’ This book is a critique of this misogynistic way of life. More than once, this book describes all the ways girls are treated differently than boys when it comes to living their lives. Driving? Nope. Being seen with someone of the opposite gender whom they’re not related to? Don’t think so. Choosing who they’re going to marry? Not even their dreams. This book puts its finger on what is profoundly wrong in the way women are treated.

I know I’m not exactly talking about the story between Zarin and Porus, but I think everybody needs to enter this book without knowing too much. It’s much more powerful this way. Experiencing the story with no expectation is the way to go.

Profile Image for Jenna.
496 reviews12 followers
March 1, 2018
2.5 stars.

It is unfortunate that I did not end up liking this. It was one of the books I was looking forward to being released this year.

The writing is what led to me not liking it. The author was overly descriptive and I got bored with how descriptive the writing was. It was more of the author telling me things than showing. A good novel has both showing and telling.

The characters were complex and the novel addressed a lot of things that don't normally get discussed. I think it is great that this novel was written but it fell flat.

I imagine there are people who will enjoy the novel. It just was not for me.

I think that the author can write well but I dobt want to read a novel where I am told everything instead of shown.

There were chapters and passages that seemed unnecessary and I do not think I connected with any of the characters.
Profile Image for Erica.
727 reviews199 followers
February 3, 2019
A Girl Like That isn't at all what I was expecting. This book is dark: it's about rape culture, sexual assault, and the pervasive mistreatment of women and girls around the globe. These are important topics, and we need YA books to work through them. But all that being said, I didn't love this book. I can see other readers enjoying this book, but it just didn't work for me. Disclaimer: I'm not an OV reviewer, and you should start with OV reviews!

A Girl Like That has a lot to say about the role men play in rape culture, but it is completely unaware that women and girls can also contribute. Almost every single man in this book is horrible: cheaters, abusers, rapists... But the girls are pretty awful, too. One of the girls at Zarin's school runs a tumblr page that's reminiscent of Gossip Girl; she posts the current gossip at the school and calls out her classmates who are too cozy with boys. This would have been a great opportunity for Bhathena to show us how toxic it is for girls to treat each other like this, but she glosses right over it. Nothing bad happens to the girl with the blog, and the slut-shaming is normalized. I was really disappointed in that.

Back to the men - every single man in this book is painfully chauvinistic (well, except Porus, but I'll get to him later). I get that Bhathena is trying to show her readers how horribly women are treated in Saudi Arabia, but for that technique to work, you need a foil. We need to see good Muslim men next to the bad ones (note that Porus isn't Muslim). But because there isn't a single good Muslim man in the book, it comes off as Islamophobic. I can see readers, after finishing this book, walking away thinking that Islam is the problem, not global rape culture. All the girls are worried about getting married off to creepy middle-aged men or getting caught by the religious police, and it really seems like Muslim men are the problem. If Bhathena had only showed us one decent Muslim man, I wouldn't have felt this way.

The characters were okay, but none of them really stood out to me. Zarin in particular felt underdeveloped. After all that she'd been through, she didn't really grow that much. And Porus. Don't even get me started. Whereas all the other men in this book are absolute pigs, Porus is perfect. Zarin treats him badly and pretty much only uses him, but he loves her anyway. I am so sick of that trope. Treating people badly (especially nice people who want to help you) is not cute. No one is going to see through your awful behavior to your good heart. Teenage boys especially should not be expected to see how deeply complex you really are. It's completely unrealistic (not to mention uninteresting) to read about a character like this. Porus bored me to tears.

This book started out like a Middle Eastern Before I Fall: Zarin and Porus have just died in a car accident, and are hovering above the scene, watching their family members grieve and the police process the scene. This is an interesting technique, but it felt out of place here. Zarin's ghost doesn't play much of a role in the book; we only see the ghosts in the first and in the last few pages, and they don't add much to the book.

We are soon swept back in time, and experience Zarin's story leading up to the accident from the perspectives of a few different characters. The multiple narrators technique is pervasive in YA, but it's one of those things that really annoy me when not done well. Here, we have Zarin and Porus as our narrators, but we also have a few random teenagers thrown in. All of their voices sounded exactly the same, and if the chapter headings hadn't told me whose turn it was, I would have had no idea.

I didn't enjoy this book, and now I feel like I'm in a book slump (it only takes one!). Hopefully my next read is better.
Profile Image for Laurie Flynn.
Author 5 books1,099 followers
February 22, 2017
I had the privilege of reading A GIRL LIKE THAT in advance of its 2018 release date, and I was completely enraptured by its beauty and power. The story starts with the aftermath of a car accident that kills that two main characters, Zarin and Porus. It's certainly not a traditional beginning to a story, but that just adds to the uniqueness of this book- there's literally nothing else like it out there. Different perspectives- from Zarin, Porus, and other people in their lives- unravel the events leading up to the accident and unearth more details about each character and their relationships with each other.

Tanaz Bhathena writes complicated girls with such mastery and complexity. Zarin is not your traditional female protagonist, and I loved her for her feisty, rebellious, spontaneous nature. I liked that she wasn't perfect and was sometimes cruel to the people who loved her, because this just made her feel more real. I wanted to underline so many passages in this book, because so much struck a chord with me. Not to mention, the writing is utterly beautiful. Tanaz writes with such elegance and command, and is able to use language in such an original way.

Everything about A GIRL LIKE THAT is incredibly evocative, including the setting in Jeddah, which plays its own role in the story as much as the characters. I felt totally transported to a place and culture I have never visited, but could visualize so well in my head thanks to rich, lyrical details.

I don't want to give too much away, but A GIRL LIKE THAT doesn't shy away from heavy issues. It's a brave book, a story that will resonate with so many readers. I can't wait to read whatever Tanaz Bhathena writes next.
Profile Image for laura (bbliophile).
826 reviews159 followers
March 1, 2018
DNF. I really don't appreciate it when a book that focuses so heavily on sexual assault/r*pe doesn't have any mention of that in the blurb.
Profile Image for Laurie.
Author 19 books3,477 followers
November 24, 2016
STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING AND READ A GIRL LIKE THAT by Tanaz Bhathena. This is one of the most important works of fiction I have ever read – right up there with THE FAULT IN OUR STARS in its depth, complexity and powerful beauty. I sat down to read a few pages of this incredible book and tore through the story in one sitting.
A GIRL LIKE THAT is told from the alternative points of view of a group of teens living in Saudi Arabia. The teens are of a variety of ethnicities and religious affiliations – Muslim, non-Muslim, Arab, Indian and mixed-race.

The narrative revolves around a 16 y.o. girl named Zarin, the other teenagers’ interactions with Zarin, and the teens’ reactions to horrific incidents that happen to her. These incidents result in Zarin being bullied at school and online by virtually the entire community.
Talk about high stakes - how about teenaged hero Porus (with his false birth certificate) who sticks by Zarin and stands up to her bullies even though it may mean deportation.

This is a book about what it means to love and about standing up against injustice at huge personal risk. It’s about the effects of the oppression of young women on everyone (men and women both) and the consequences of dividing ourselves by strict cultural, religious and racial lines. And, ultimately, it’s a book about daring to step outside those lines to choose humanity over division.
I came away from reading this #ownvoices book changed and wanting to be more like Porus.
BE AWARE – This book deals frankly with bullying, racism, rape, sexuality in an oppressive environment, mental illness, illegal drugs and the systemic abuse of women.
Profile Image for Resh (The Book Satchel).
454 reviews504 followers
June 25, 2018
This book was fast paced and engaging. I read it in one sitting because the writing was captivating enough to keep me on the edge.

Zarin Wadia; she is 'a girl like that'.

Zarin does not give a damn that she is branded a slut, rebel etc by her teachers, aunty, friends and mostly everyone. Enter Porus Dumasia, who falls in love with her though she considers him a friend. The story begins with a car crash killing Porus and Zarin and then a string of speculations follow.

- fast paced
- god storytelling
- coming of age story told in a convincing way and set in Saudi Arabia
- the dialogues felt real, like how teenagers talk, instead of how some books have adult like talk for their teenage characters
- accurate portrayal of frustration, peer pressure, young love, drugs and so on.

- the brother sister duo seemed stereotypical.
- the ending was disappointing compared to the rest of the novel

Disclaimer : Much thanks to Penguin India for a copy of the novel. All opinions are my own.

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Profile Image for K..
3,797 reviews1,022 followers
April 23, 2018
Trigger warnings: death, car accident, slut shaming, bullying, mental health, date rape, drugging of unknowing girls, domestic violence/child abuse, misogyny, death of a parent (in the past).

This was a way tougher read than I anticipated it being. I mean, given that the story starts with the main character being dead, it was never going to be a particularly easy read. But there was so much more going on here than I'd anticipated.

It's an incredibly compelling story, essentially told in reverse from the perspectives of multiple characters who contribute in some way to Zarin's death. It's set in an Indian community in Saudi Arabia, which is such a FASCINATING setting and a fascinating community to get to know.

I had so many feelings about Zarin and the way her story unfolds, and those feelings only got stronger as the story progressed. Because Y.I.K.E.S.
Profile Image for Nieves ✨.
954 reviews1,117 followers
January 23, 2019
3'5🌟 Es una lectura que me ha dejado un buen sabor de boca y con ganas de volver a leer a la autora, y ver lo que nos tiene preparado. No os voy a mentir, como os decía antes es una historia bastante dura, en muchas ocasiones, crea mucha impotencia ver todo lo que tiene pasar la protagonista por una únicamente una mujer en ese país. Es una lectura que me ha tenido muy enganchada, ya que ha sido el primer libro que leo con esta temática y ya os digo que me ha dejado con apetencia de encontrar más libros relacionados con esta temática.

"Una Chica Como Ella" es una historia dolorosa que tiene una protagonista que trasmite fuerza a cada paso y nos enseña la realidad que viven las mujeres en muchos lugares del mundo. Una lectura adictiva que no te dejará indiferente.

Reseña completa: https://aprovechalavidacadadiaa.blogs...
Profile Image for Faith Simon.
198 reviews164 followers
December 17, 2018
I... sort of don't know what to say about this book? I mean, all I've heard about this is rave reviews, and sure it tackles some serious subject matter, but now that I've finished the entire story I'm just... underwhelmed?
This book takes place in a non-Western setting which is great in its own right, and deals with subjects of slut-shaming, sexual assault, abuse, among other things, and so the book can be praised highly for these things. But the story? That's arguable.
The synopsis tells readers that the story is told through a lot of different perspectives, so this had me imagining Zarin's story would be told solely through perspectives that weren't hers (I think this would have been better for the story and had a better sense of mystery where readers had to piece certain events together), but instead a significant part of the storytelling was told by Zarin. And the fact that we also got her point of view after she had died I thought was weird and didn't really add to the story in any way.
I mean, this was by no means boring, it was interesting, I just didn't really find it that great or life-changing like the reviews sort of led me to believe?
I did learn a lot of different things from a different culture which was nice, but other than that I can't say much about this book.
Profile Image for Yna from Books and Boybands.
759 reviews345 followers
August 11, 2020
“It is strange, I thought, how we always recognize our best memories in hindsight.”

📚 Series? No.
📚 Genre? YA Contemporary.
📚 Cliffhanger? No.

⚠ Content Warnings:  Death. Abuse. Rape. Bullying. Car Accident.
⚠ Book Tags :  Religious differences. Indian and Arabic culture. Female sexuality. Expat life. Girl on girl hate.

The book is about:
Told in the eyes of the characters as ghosts, Zarin died in a car accident with Porus, a guy she bestfriend-zoned. This book is set in Saudi Arabia, and our lead is an Indian expat studying at an international school in the country. The story revolved around Zarin's life, at home, her relationships with family and the people at her school, and the way men in her life had treated her.

What drew me in:
Like always, the cover of this book is stunning and it drew me in. However, I was not expecting how heavy this read actually is.

Characters & connections:
If you are a woman (or at least a compassionate person), this story will hit you quite hard. At times, you'll have to take a break and exhale all the heavy feelings because many scenes can hurt a lot. Zarin was very misunderstood throughout the story and she deserved a better life. Throughout her journey, I felt so much of her pain and her loss.. and the way she had to deal with so much at a very young age.

Everything I liked:
The good parts about this book is seeing the harsh realities of life, and maybe hoping that some people use this to make the most of their life and what they can become. I also appreciate seeing the differences in cultures, religions, and beliefs that are not the same as mine. It all comes down to a beautiful learning experience and that's what makes the journey worthwhile.

Overall thoughts:
A Girl Like That can be a hard book to read, so tread lightly if you decide to pick this up for your next read. The pacing is not the fastest, but the topics it discusses can make you feel uncomfortable.. in a way that awakens something inside of you. There's some room to get the message across better, but the efforts of the author are clearly felt and heard.


🌼 Blurb:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Main Character:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Significant Other: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Support Characters:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Writing Style:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Character Development:⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
🌼 Pacing: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
🌼 Ending: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
🌼 Unputdownability: ⭐⭐⭐☆☆
🌼 Book Cover:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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Profile Image for Kayla.
Author 15 books405 followers
October 11, 2016
"Sometimes, life does not go the way we want it to and we can't really change that. But it doesn't matter as long as we have someone to love us. Love is more important than anything else in this world. And you deserve love just as much as anyone else."

Here's what you should know about Tanaz Bhathena's What We Left Behind:

It is heartbreaking. This is a story about how love—and its absence—can shape a person's life, and it is a story framed with death. It was tragic in a way that reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, with a star-crossed relationship that never truly had a chance to grow into something.

It is unusual. With its two main characters dead from page one and the way its multi-POV structure builds, this book isn't so much about *what* has happened as *how* it happened—and the *how* is brilliantly executed, bits of information unfolding in careful detail to form a complete picture.

It is important. This is not a happy book, and it is not a light read, but it is an important read. It was fascinating to read about a culture so different from the one in which I was raised—I so appreciated the author's #ownvoices perspective for the opportunity to experience this world so authentically through her characters' eyes.

It is beautiful. This book is full of beautiful writing that is, at times, purposefully rough so as not to sugarcoat things made more of grit than sweetness.

In addition to the quote at the top of this review, I also loved lines like: "Because a bird only learns to fly when its wings are broken." and "I will stay alive for as long as possible. I will fight the odds that I have against me. I will learn to breathe both air and dust. I will learn to crawl through the oceans of sand this desert peaks with, its cracked salt plains." and "If the glittering lights and skyscrapers of the Red Sea coast were her ornaments then Balad was Jeddah's ancient, beating heart, its narrow streets linked to the main shopping square like arteries."

Aside from the beautiful writing, I also found main character Porus's loyalty to be quite lovely and inspiring: he is loyal to the point of risking his life, his job, his relationship with his only living family. He's loyal when people tell him he doesn't have to be—even that he *shouldn't* be. His love is so fierce that he's willing to do whatever it takes to be there for the person he loves, even though his love isn't completely reciprocated.

In short, you should not come casually to What We Left Behind—it is not a breezy sort of book, but one with weight, and it will leave a real and lasting impact on you—but you should definitely pick it up if you are at all interested in the unusual, the beautiful, or the heartbreaking-but-important.
Profile Image for Anniek.
1,873 reviews695 followers
July 4, 2020
Whatever I hoped this book would be, it wasn't this. I heard so many great things about it that I expected it to be a critical, feminist view on cultural and societal beliefs. Instead, I got a book filled with girl on girl hate, and just lots of hatefulness in general. None of the characters were likeable, in fact, they didn't seem to have any distinguishable personality at all, and everyone was just focussed on their own gain. I can't judge any of the religious or cultural representation, but seeing how filled the book is with negativity, I can't imagine it to be very accurate. It was clear what this book tried to achieve, but it missed the point entirely by portraying everything as so black and white and lacking any type of subtlety.
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