A timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved.
“Fascinating and disturbing.” Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
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; 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.
Praise for A Girl Like That:
"Bhathena makes an impressive debut with this eye-opening novel about a free-spirited girl in present-day Saudi Arabia. . . . Bhathena’s novel should spur heated discussions about sexist double standards and the ways societies restrict, control, and punish women and girls." Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A powerful debut." School Library Journal, starred review
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. Her short stories have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Witness, and Room Magazine. A Girl Like That is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
There was something about the boy's back that caught my eye, that made me pause on the way to the used-books stall and watch him string lights over a painted wooden stand at the annual school fair the summer I turned fourteen. Hours later, when the air cooled and the sky darkened, the lights would flash red, blue, green, and yellow and hordes of students would squeeze into the parking lot at Qala Academy's boys' section in Sharafiyah to stuff their faces with popcorn and cotton candy, buy bangles and DVDs, and throw darts at colored balloons to win cheap two-riyal toys made of old sofa foam and lint-covered velvet.
Maybe it was the translucent white polyester of his shirt that revealed the absence of the white undershirt worn by most schoolboys. Or the breeze that pressed said shirt to the long, smooth indent of his spine: a tunnel that trailed from nape to waist, flanked with thick muscle on both sides. Or maybe it was simply the novelty of being able to leisurely stare at a boy, without Masi constantly hovering around me like an overprotective bulldog.
"She's growing up fast," I had often heard her complain to Masa. "Too fast."
Too fast based on the looks she said I got from boys and even from some men at the deli, the supermarket, and the mall. From the way I walked, my "hips swaying like a loose woman's," if the boy that followed me home from the DVD store when I was eleven was any indication — even though at the time I had not known what it meant to be a loose woman.
Too fast, like my mother. A woman who, even as a teenager, wore no sudreh under her clothes and tied no kusti around her waist.
"How could she?" Masi's voice would boom through the house, as loud as a priest's at prayer time. "With those small-small shirts that she wore? 'It wouldn't be fashionable,' she would always say."
According to Masi, the story of my birth could have been made into a tragic film for Indian parallel cinema. My mother had worked as a bar girl in Mumbai, a woman who danced to remixed versions of popular Hindi songs in a shower of Gandhi-faced rupee notes, accompanied by drunken compliments and whistles. After my great-grandfather's death, it was the only way she could make money to support herself and her younger sister, my masi — not that Masi was ever grateful. My father worked as a hit man for a Mumbai don. He and my mother fell in love, did not marry, but had me. Then my father abandoned my mother, went off to Dubai, and got blown up by a pair of guns. The End.
There had been several articles in the newspapers about my father's death. "Fugitive Mumbai Gangster Shot Dead in Dubai." "Massacre in Deira." "Suraj Shinde's Final Salaam." On a trip back to Mumbai, I looked up these headlines one afternoon in the archives of a public library and even managed to find a small color photo of him — a broad-shouldered man with a square jaw, warm brown skin, and a frown exactly like mine.
My mother's death, on the other hand, was not documented anywhere, except perhaps in a Mumbai morgue. I would hear Masi talking to the Dog Lady about it at times over the phone — how some of my mother's bar patrons had shown up at the funeral — until the talk inevitably turned to me and the way I behaved after my mother died. "Never even cried, that girl," Masi would always say. "You'd think she had no feelings whatsoever. She makes me so angry sometimes. Keeps egging me on until I hit her."
My uncle had never approved of her hitting me. I had heard them fighting about it once a couple of years ago, when she'd left a bruise on my cheek for failing a Math test. But apart from that, he rarely, if ever, intervened about any other form of punishment Masi doled out. My disobedience was something he didn't approve of either; he often told me that Masi and I would get along better if I listened to her more, if I tried harder at school, if I didn't make her so angry by being argumentative.
In any case, Masa could never stay mad at her for long. The night they had argued, Masi woke us up with her screams. "I won't let you!" Masi's body jerked upward as she struggled against my uncle's grip on her wrists. Her teeth gnashed. White drool gathered at the corners of her lips. "She isn't — she isn't going with you!"
I'd watched Masa gently coax her out of the episode, the way he had several times before in Mumbai. "It's okay, Khorshi. It's okay. Did you forget your medicine again?" It took him two hours to make her take the pills and then soothe her back to sleep, crooning an old Hindi love song. A lullaby for a grown woman. Neither of them seemed to notice that I was there, watching from behind the partly open bedroom door.
I, on the other hand, never screamed when I had a nightmare. Neither Masa nor Masi knew about the cold sweats I woke up to late at night when I first came to live with them in Mumbai, or the ones I sometimes woke up to even now in Jeddah. Most nights I dreamed of my mother, saw candles glowing, tasted chocolate flakes on my lips. "Smile!" she would say, and a flash would go off repeatedly, until I woke up with a start. Other nights, I would have different dreams. Scarier ones of a man tossing me up high into the air. A loud cracking sound. A woman's scream. But then, just as quickly, the mornings would come and Masi's voice would rise, sonorous in prayer. I would turn once more into the Zarin they knew — a girl who no longer cried or jumped back in surprise when her aunt gave her a beating.
One day she made me so angry that I stuffed my underwear in a clothes drawer, allowing the navy-blue cloth of my academy kameez to touch my skin without hindrance, resisting the itch of the rough cotton. It had been worth it to hear Masi screech when she saw the outline of my nipples through the cloth — even more satisfying than the way her face purpled each time I winked at a boy at the mall or exchanged smiles with one at the supermarket.
It no longer mattered what Rusi Masa said in her defense — "She means well!" or "It's for your own good!" By then, I was fourteen and I already knew the truth: that Masi's protectionism stemmed not out of a genuine concern for my well-being, but from a paranoia of having males around me, especially those who reminded her of my "good-for-nothing gangster father."
It was basic psychology, Mishal Al-Abdulaziz told us at school. Girls were often attracted to boys who reminded them of their fathers, and boys, in turn, to girls who reminded them of their mothers.
But that day, at the academy fair, I was not looking for a fight with my aunt. I glanced around quickly, scanning the faces of the growing crowd of fairgoers for the glint of her big gold-rimmed spectacles or my uncle's bald head. I couldn't see either, which meant they were still talking to that man from Masa's office on the other side of the fairgrounds. It had been the man who'd suggested the used-books stall when Masa told him that I liked to read.
"Let her go," Masa had told Masi. "Maybe she can find those Harry Potter books the kids are always talking about."
Masi had frowned for a moment, but to my surprise, she did let me go, probably unwilling to create a scene in front of Masa's colleague. "No wandering around," she had told me in her curt voice. "We will join you very shortly."
The faint call for the maghrib prayer floated through the air from a nearby mosque. It would soon be followed by the rustle of prayer mats being rolled out in front of the stalls on the tarmac, the snap of shoelaces and the scrape of Velcro as men slipped off their shoes, splashed their faces, hands, and feet with water from a bottle, and stepped onto colorful rectangles with paisley designs, their heads covered with kerchiefs or netted skullcaps.
The sound of salah was one I always associated with Saudi Arabia, a time when work came to a pause and shops rolled down their shutters for several minutes, five times every day. In Mumbai, life went on as usual, the blare of traffic horns competing with mosques, temples, and churches alike. In Jeddah, however, a sort of stillness fell over everything. Here, prayer's melody was distinct, audible over every other sound. As a six-year-old, I'd often fallen asleep listening to a salah after a nightmare. Even as I grew older, the sound had never failed to ease my restlessness. Until now.
The boy stretched back his arms and then leaped off the chair, his sneakers throwing up dust as they hit the ground. Unlike the men near the stalls, he didn't kneel or turn in the direction of Makkah, but spun around to face me.
Black hair. Tanned skin. Narrow jaw. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention, the irises hazel, almost pale gold in the fading afternoon light. They traveled over me: from the top of my scarf to the tips of my sneakers peeking from underneath the black abaya. I was aware of the shapelessness of the garment, the worn laces of my shoes, the boyish crop Masi had been forcing on me ever since I was four years old. For a moment I wished my abaya was fancier: a pastel shade of white, sky blue, or yellow instead of the usual black, or embroidered and sequined like the ones Mishal and her friends wore. I wished I could, like some other girls at the fair, feel bold enough to leave my abaya open at the front and show off glimpses of a colorful new outfit. But even underneath the abaya, my clothes weren't much better — an old T-shirt and the cheap jeans that Masi bought by the dozen from Manara Market.
"It's not like anyone's going to see what you're wearing," she had always said and I had never found a reason to question this rationale. Until tonight.
The boy tilted his head slightly and then flashed me a smile — white teeth, a dimple deep in his left cheek.
My face warmed. It was ridiculous, really. I had never blushed in front of a boy before — not even in Masi's presence. Smile back, my mind told me. Smile back.
However, by the time I felt the corners of my mouth turn up, the boy was distracted by other matters, more specifically by the head girl, who jogged by us with a money box clutched in her hands, her big breasts bouncing like a pair of water balloons.
"Nadia!" the boy called after her. "Hey, Nadia, do you need some help?"
"Farhaaaan." I'd never heard the head girl sound so breathless. She held the box out to him. "Oh Farhan, you're a lifesaver. May Allah forgive me for missing my prayers today, but I've been so busy! Could you please get this to the headmistress for me?"
"Of course, Nadia." This time his smile was for her, only turned up in brightness. The dizzy, megawatt grin of a guy who'd finally been noticed by a girl he'd been eyeing for ages. Instead of walking away, they continued to talk, the head girl giggling at something the boy said, seemingly oblivious to the glares they drew from the praying men. By the time they walked off, the salah had ended and voices around me rose again, indicating that the stalls had reopened for business.
"There you are." Masi's voice floated to my ears a moment later, as pleasant as the snap of a rubber band on skin. "We've been looking everywhere for you."
I turned away from the boy and the head girl, my face burning. My aunt and uncle approached: Masa, smiling, with plastic packets of blue and pink cotton candy in his hands, and Masi, frowning, her magnified bifocal eyes focused somewhere over my head.
"Who's that boy?" she asked.
"You were staring at him. Clearly he isn't no one."
"So is it now a crime to look at people?"
"Stop it," Masa interrupted. He gave me one of the packs of cotton candy. "Stop it, both of you."
I tore out a chunk of the spun pink sugar with my fingers and stuffed it into my mouth, barely listening to Masi's lecture about bad manners. To my relief, we did not see either the boy or Nadia again for the rest of the evening — not that we stayed there very long.
Hours later, I pulled out the school yearbook in my bedroom, turning page after page until I came across one with his photo. Farhan Rizvi. Captain, Qala Academy soccer team. Second-place winner at the regional school debate held last year in Dubai.
His smile didn't seem that special now. It was too toothy, I told myself, too white. Like he was modeling for a toothpaste commercial. His nose looked like it had been modeled by a plastic surgeon, it was so perfectly shaped and centered. Fake, I decided. Completely fake.
I stared at the photo for a few more moments, remembering the way his gaze had traveled over my body, almost as if he was mapping it, the slight narrowing of the eyes, as if something was missing, as if there was something about me that fell short of his expectations.
"It will be difficult," I'd heard Masi telling Masa once, in reference to me. "So difficult to find her a good boy once they find out about her family."
"That happened a long time ago. It won't matter."
"Not everyone is like you, Rusi." It was the first time I'd heard her sound sad, resigned. "Most boys listen to their parents. And they are not going to ignore her past."
The taint of bad blood, the Dog Lady called it. It didn't matter how good your reputation was or how pretty you looked. Though I had never thought about marriage before, I could imagine what the Dog Lady and Masi would say when the time came.
"She will be lucky if she can even find someone," the Dog Lady would say in her patronizing tone. "As is, it is so troublesome, you know, Khorshed dear, when it comes to finding someone for a child from a mixed marriage, and in her case ... well, you know how people talk."
Of course Masi knew. I knew as well.
Illegitimate. Half-Hindu. Gangster's daughter. I'd heard the words before.
I looked at Farhan Rizvi's photo again. Blood rose to my cheeks and I was suddenly angry with him for reminding me of these things. For ogling me first and then chasing after the head girl. For flashing me his perfect smile: a crumb of affection for a lovesick little girl. Pain flickered deep inside my chest. I snapped the yearbook shut and tossed it aside.
* * *
The first time I smoked a cigarette, it felt like I'd swallowed a piece of burning coal. Asfiya, the girl who'd offered it to me on the academy roof, did not seem surprised by my coughing fit.
"It happens," she said in a gravelly voice. "You'll get used to it, though."
It was the longest thing she had said to me since I'd started coming up here, halfway through Class IX. Neither of us had planned that first meeting. In those days, I would skip Phys Ed and sneak off to a quiet stairwell on the second floor, where I read a novel I had borrowed from the school library. One day, however, instead of going to the stairwell again, I'd climbed up to the top floor of the academy, a roof terrace that acted as storage for broken desks and blackboards, and a water tank with white paint chipping off its sides. Atop the water tank sat Asfiya — a senior I knew only by her first name mostly because everyone kept saying she was a bad student and a smoker. A smoker! You'd think she was Satan incarnate, the way the girls in my class spoke about her.
She had been blowing smoke rings into the air, one short puff after another, squiggly white circles that rose toward the blue sky before dissipating into nothing. I had expected her to stop when she saw me, maybe even yell, but she hadn't done either of those things. We had stared at each other for a long moment until I pointed to the base of the water tank and asked: "Can I sit here?"
Asfiya had shrugged and simply said, "Whatever."
As the weeks went on, it became a sort of ritual — me sitting at the base of the water tank and reading, her sitting on top and smoking, both of us with a bird's-eye view of three of the four whitewashed buildings that made up the enclosed Qala Academy girls'-section complex, and parts of the neighborhood that lay beyond — shadowy apartment buildings with their clotheslines and dusty satellite dishes, the crescent tip of a mosque glinting in the sunlight. On windy days, I didn't read and Asfiya didn't smoke. We simply sat together, enjoying the respite from the moist Jeddah heat, and watched the grounds below, where girls played volleyball, basketball, and cricket, their voices high and thin from down there, the sort of voices I imagined dolls would have if they ever came to life.
"Is it interesting?" Asfiya asked me a few days after she gave me my first cigarette. "That book you're reading?"
I looked up. "It's pretty good. Animals making up their own rules. Running a farm. The pigs are kind of creepy though."
"Hmm, I guess. Not much of an animal person myself."
I stared out into the distance, my vision blurring slightly in the heat. "I had a kitten once," I said. "I found him here in the academy four years ago, in the second-floor corridor. His mom had died."
Excerpted from "A Girl Like That"
Copyright © 2018 Tanaz Bhathena.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Girl Like Any Other,
Glossary of Words and Phrases,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Girl Like That, surprisingly a debut novel, made me want swing cricket bats (at that Rizvi's head of course), curl up and cry, and eventually left me with the fuzzy feeling of confused euphoria. From the blurb, one figures it to be a tale of a girl who is a troublemaker. I figured that the story would be about how she dies and then everyone thinks of her and discusses her story from their point of view. But no, that wasn't all. It was way more complex. The hows and whys and the whatfors are swirling colours in Tanaz Bhathena's book, quite like a kaleidoscope on a giant screen. I knew Zarin and Porus died. But Tanaz Bhathena was rather wicked in killing them off at the beginning of the book and then bringing them back to life through the course of it. And then poof! Their death comes with a lighting jolt to the heart. Every time her words manage to soothe a burn & mend a break, one turns a page and there is heartbreak all over again. I was eventually left with an overwhelming urge to cry for Zarin and Porus. There were times when their relationship was warm and fuzzy. Just thinking about it brings a smile and then the same makes me want to weep. Honestly, this was a great read. Fast-paced and packed with a punch, I finished it over a weekend. Highly recommend, pick it up for the writing if not for anything else.
This tragic love story begins at the end. Zarin and Porus are killed in a car accident right at the beginning. The rest of the book looks back on their relationship and how they ended up in the car together. I loved the way that Zarin’s character reflected the society she lived in. She would break the rules because she was so restricted, but her punishments meant she was given more restrictions. She didn’t have much control over her life, but she did extreme things when she could decide for herself. For example, she snuck around with the wrong type of boys. When she found one who was good, she didn’t love him. She smoked cigarettes, which made her an outcast in her classes. She didn’t have many on her side, even at home. This story was set in Saudi Arabia. I’ve never read a book set there, so this was a new experience for me. One thing that stood out to me was the religious police. They would go and question any boy and girl found together and they would have to prove they were siblings. Right at the beginning, when the car accident happens, the first thing the police comment on is why Zarin and Porus were in the car together. It’s more important for them to learn why they were together, rather than the fact that they died. In those situations, even innocent encounters become dangerous. I really enjoyed this story. I’m looking forward to reading Tanaz’s next book, The Beauty of the Moment.
The story then unfolds from a few points of view, Zarin being the main character. She is an orphan, very tough on the outside, as she doesn't fit in anywhere. Raised by her mother's sister and husband, she is a constant reminder of the unmarried sister that didn't toe the line. They are all a bit out of sorts, even though they moved to Saudi Arabia from India for Masa's work years ago and Zarin has attended the same school with the same girls for years. These young women have 21st devices, but still understand all the rules and customs of their faith, as well as the gossip and rumors that go with high school age girls. Even rebellious Zarin won't go too far as she tries the limits of Saudi law and her aunt and uncle. What goes with that, is an immense amount of abuse by the young men, who aren't held to quite the same rules. There were so many heart wrenching parts. And pretty much every maternal character in the book wasn't very helpful, all seemed to be depressed and on medication. A must read to get an idea of the stringent atmosphere these girls are growing up in.
I first met Tanaz Bathena on Instagram, when she followed by #bookstagram account and upon discovering her profile, I read the Publisher’s Weekly announcement for her debut novel and I KNEW that it was something I NEEDED TO READ. I read this book over the course of a week, and it was poignant and beautiful and it really hit home for me on multiple levels and easily one of the BEST books I read this year. Let’s break it down: WRITING: Told through multiple points of view, A Girl Like That eloquently portrays the lives of teenagers living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with honest, unflinching prose that will haunt you long after you’ve put it down. Even though this was only Tanaz Bathena’s debut novel, I felt everything she wanted me to feel – the fear, the sense of inequality, the sadness, the anger and the joy – and it was experience like no other. IDEA: I’ve been RANTING on Twitter to anyone who will hear me about how much I NEEDED to read this book before I actually got my hands on it all because it SOUNDED SO BRILLIANT. Like, honestly, just read that synopsis and tell me you’re not intrigued. PLOT: The structure of the plot was unconventional, to say the least. And by that I mean that not only was this book not told in a chronological manner, but throughout its varying viewpoints, we learn stories from the past and present of each of the main characters; stories that shaped them, and it’s done in such a beautiful manner. A Girl Like That slowly constructs and deconstructs its diverse cast of characters in a heart breaking manner that will leave you SPELLBOUND. I loved that this had so many points of view – Zarin, Porus, Farhan and Mishal, because it really pieced every heart breaking part of this story together. CHARACTERS: I absolutely loved Zarin and Porus. I loved Zarin’s need to be someone more and her need to break the shackles keeping her down with her rebellious streak. I wanted to reach in and hug her for the things life had put her through and I absolutely loved that Porus was there with her for it all. Porus was a GEM of a human being. With rantings on true love and loyalty so fierce, I loved how Zarin and Porus worked together and how right they were for each other at the moment. All the girls in this book, in one way or another were fighting for independence, fighting for individuality and also just to be equal in a society that does everything to push them down and everybody’s story was beautiful in its own way. CONCLUSION: This book was BETTER than I expected it would be, and I expected a LOT from it. A poignant, heart breaking, diverse book on love, life and death; a harsh look into society in the Middle East and the beautiful, broken lives of girls living there.
What can I say about a novel that made me stop and breathe. This was a novel that was more immense than the pages that held its words. It was a novel that threw out the punches over and over again, a fight that never seemed to disappear. It was a novel that was hard to read yet one that was also hard to put down. As the story unwinds, there seemed to be individuals with motives and those that were sincere and existed. It wasn’t too hard to tell them apart for most of them were open about their opinions. It was an emotional read for me. What can I say when I find myself throwing the novel across the floor and then later, I am heartbroken and frustrated over what I have just read. The character development was excellent. These were well-rounded individuals, profound in thought and in presence. I highly recommend this novel. I won a copy of this from Fierce Reads on a Goodreads Giveaway. Thank you!!