A Girl Like That is a story that tackles challenging issues such as race, class, rape, and abuse. It’s a heavy book and one that doesn’t give us false illusions – which is why I liked it so much.
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.
TW: rape, abuse, assault
Disclaimer: I cannot speak to the accuracy of the representation of both the setting of Saudi Arabia or the interaction between Islam and the culture.
A Girl Like That deals with some pretty heavy topics. While I needed a break from this book sometimes (this is one of those books that is hard to binge read just because of sheer plot alone), I enjoyed it as a whole.
I really liked Zarin’s character. She was fiesty and rebellious, at the same time she was also incredibly vulnerable. Zarin was complex and I also really liked Porus. While I’ve said above that I cannot speak to the accuracy of the representation, I wanted to talk about what the phrase – a girl like that means. Part of why I liked the title and Zarin in particular was that yes, she lives in a very specific culture that has strict rules on her expectations and behavior. And at the same time, there’s a very easy way that Zarin is very similar to many other girls I know – girls who were told their behaviors were not okay, or attracting the wrong attention, or bringing it on themselves.
Yes this is a book that is firmly rooted in setting and culture, but at the same time, similar pieces of rhetoric spoke to my own growing up experiences and some of my own fears as well growing up as a girl in America. I don’t want to discount her situation or the complexity of her life (her religion and the interaction between religion and government), I just wanted to highlight one of the reasons why I enjoyed her character so much.
At the same time, we are also able to see from Mishal’s perspective, the ways women’s behaviors are blamed on themselves – for looking a certain way. Mishal was this character who I didn’t even anticipate liking, but ended up really appreciating the differences in opinion that she brought to the story. Each of the characters were complex – her aunt, Mishal, Porus. (One thing I loved was that Zarin is told time and again throughout the whole story that she is bad, and it was heart wrenching the ways we internalize this rhetoric).
The entire book has this pretty great hook and we start from the present and seem to work our way backwards. I really appreciated this style of writing, even if it was confusing sometimes which time period we were in. The entire book takes place with various perspectives, not only Zarin and Porus. At the same time, we see the past and the present intermingling throughout to almost ask us the meaning between cause and effect. What is the relationship between the past and the was those similar actions and attitudes are playing out in the present? We are able to figure out ‘what’ happened, while at the same time, not truly ever being able to know. At the end, one has to ask – what can you do? What could each of our characters have done to change the outcome of the situation – because it feels like this waterfall series of cause and reactions.
So from a writing and character point of view, I really enjoyed this book. The subject matter felt very heavy and only more so as the book went on, but it definitely contributed to this almost reflexive perspective Zarin and Porus have. You can check out A Girl Like That on Goodreads.