A heart-wrenching tale of forbidden love
'A wonderfully complex love story unlike any you’ve read before. Saeed has given a novel that is both entertaining and important.”—Matt de la Peña, New York Times bestselling author
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.
About the Author
Aisha Saeed (aishasaeed.com) is a Pakistani American writer, teacher, and attorney. Her writings have appeared in publications including The Orlando Sentinel, Muslim Girl magazine, and Rivaaj magazine. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diversity in literature. She is also a contributing author to the highly acclaimed Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, which features the story of her own (happily) arranged marriage. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons.
Read an Excerpt
“Naila, I wish you didn’t have to miss the game.” Carla tells me.
“Game?” I check the road, on the lookout for my mom, before turning to her. She rolls her eyes, her blonde hair up in its cheerleader ponytail. Our lives may have changed a lot since we met in first grade, but that eye roll and the annoyed pout, that hasn’t changed at all.
“Game?” She looks at Eric. “Do you believe her? It’s only the last game of Saif’s high school career.” She turns to me. “Naila, are you really going to miss this one too?”
“You know I can’t go.”
“It’s his last game, Naila.”
I glance back at Saif. He’s wearing his blue soccer jersey and chatting with a friend a safe distance away by the green mosaic mural next to our high school’s school entrance. I take in his lean frame, his olive skin, and the brown hair that brushes against his eyes. He catches my eye just then; his dimple deepens with his smile. He takes a step towards us, and then stops, remembering why he can’t approach.
“See?” Carla exhales. “He knows he can’t even stand here with us because your parents might freak out.”
“My mom might freak out if she sees Eric standing here too,” I remind her, jabbing a finger towards the road.
“I still don’t get it,” she continues. “He’s the sweetest boyfriend ever. Any parent should be thankful their daughter met a guy like him. What’s their deal?”
I’ve explained it all to her too many times. I’m starting to think she just doesn’t want to hear it. “It’s complicated,” I finally say.
“Well you know what’s not complicated?” she counters. “That he’s the most understanding guy I’ve ever met. Seriously, Eric,” she touches his arm, “would we be celebrating our three month anniversary next week if I never so much as stepped past this curb with you?”
Eric clears his throat, “Um, good question, but,” he glances back, “I think Saif’s calling me so uh, I’ll leave you both to discuss that.” He kisses Carla and jogs over to Saif.
Good, I think, relaxing a little now that I am alone with Carla.
“I want to go tonight, Carla,” I tell her, “you know I do, but my parents—”
“Oh, come on!” Carla shakes her head. “They can’t keep you locked up forever. Just sneak out the window. Just this once! You’re not twelve-years-old. Besides, your parents zonk out by 9 o’clock anyways. I can pick you up. At least you’ll catch the last half. It would mean so much to him.”
“I wish I could but I can’t. We’ll be in college this time next year, I can’t risk getting caught now.”
I don’t mention the tension between my parents ever since I got my acceptance letter last week and the hushed arguments about whether or not I will go away to college at all.
“Hey,” Saif calls out to Carla, “Eric and I are leaving without you if you don’t hurry up!”
“Fine,” Carla rolls her eyes at me. “You can’t say I didn’t try.”
She walks over to join Saif and Eric. Before they all head to the student parking lot, Saif turns to look at me. Love you, I mouth to him. I press my palm to my lips and blow him a silent kiss. He grins— and then, they disappear behind the curve.
Only now does my jaw unclench, my shoulders relax. And only now do I let myself acknowledge that familiar mixture of relief and guilt that has been my companion this past year.
Has it already been a year? I think back. Yes. It’s been one year since Saif told me he cared about me as more than just his friend. It’s been one year since I told him I felt the same way and kissed him in the side-courtyard with the tangled palm trees next to the library, deciding it was time to let my heart, and not fear, dictate what I would do. And, my stomach tightens; it’s been one year since I began deceiving my parents without ever once opening my mouth.
I hear a honk. My mother’s minivan pulls up to the curb.
“Sorry, beta, I had to stop and get gas,” she says when I get inside. Her hair, more black than gray, is tied up in a loose bun, a large red scarf circles her neck despite today’s unusually hot Florida sun. “I didn’t realize I was this late though,” she scans the empty school entrance. “You should have stayed inside until you saw my car, you never know who is out there.”
“Carla was here,” I tell her quickly. “She only just left.”
“She’s a good girl.” My mother smiles. “I’m glad you’re both still friends.”
“Well,” I begin, “she was telling me about a soccer game tonight. She really wants me to go and support the team too. The school year’s almost over and all our friends are going to be there, and, well, we’ll be roommates in a few months anyways, so I was wondering...“
“No,” my mother shoots me a surprised look. “You know that.”
“But Ami,” I begin.
“It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s all the boys that would be there. Besides, Auntie Lubna is having a party tonight, did you forget already?”
“Is Imran going?” I bite my lip, knowing the answer.
“He has to study,” she responds.
“Why can Imran skip these parties but I never can?”
“What’s gotten into you today?” my mother glances at me. “If you don’t go people will wonder, you know how they talk. Besides, your brother gets bored. He doesn’t have anyone his own age at these things. I already ironed your salwar kamiz. We’ll leave as soon as your Abu can shut down the dry cleaning business for the day.”
I lean back into the seat. I’ve gone to more of my parent’s dinner parties than I can count. Gatherings of my parent’s friends, all Pakistani immigrants like themselves who meet almost every week at one another’s homes to talk in the language they grew up in and listen to the music of their childhood.
I used to even eye Saif from afar at these dinner parties, until his sister Jehan got married to someone that shocked the entire community. His name was Justin. They didn’t know much about him, except that he was definitely not Pakistani.
“We all saw it coming,” my mother had said in a horrified voice on the phone to her sister. “They never had any control over their kids what else do you expect?”
I think my mother and her friends might have forgiven them this marriage had Saif’s parents seemed remorseful about Jehan marrying outside the South Asian community. But Saif’s parents didn’t seem ashamed at all.
No one invites them anymore.
I watch the trees that line the road fly by as we drive past. It’s almost summertime. Not that anyone can tell. Elsewhere there are seasons. Leaves bloom green and then turn gold and crimson as they fall to the earth, change coming to everything in its path.
In my world the leaves stay green, the same Florida heat beating down on us, day after day, year after year. Unchanging.
But not for long. Soon things will change. Soon they will have to. I’ve spent my entire life banking on this very truth.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mini-Review: -My heart is shattered. -This book is everything. -Did I mention my heart is shattered? -Romance that will leave you in tears -Primary focus on Naila's growth and journey -Important discussion on arranged marriages and family conflicts -Will cry repeatedly
Firstly, Aisha Saeed has done a wonderful job with this book. I LOVE her note at the end about how even in religions and cultures where arranged marriages are a thing, that forced marriages are frowned on. And I especially loved that she put a list of resources in the back of the book. That was wonderful. Second, this book ripped my heart out. I recommend it. This was both engaging and heartbreaking. Because not only is it fictional but it's also completely a thing that happens outside of fiction. And it's a terrifying thing to think about and no doubt go through. ALL of that said, I hope to see more books from this author. Hopefully not as heavy as this one but definitely more books with non white main characters following what they believe is right to do what they believe is right. I bought the book before I had even finished half of it because I wound up that engrossed in it. It's not a purchase I regret.
While reading I was disgusted by all the horrible things Naila went through and I was angry at the people who made it happen to her this was a hard book to read because being forced into marriage is not an easy topic to address and the way the woman were treated in this and the fact that so many women in the world are treated like this makes me furious. Reading about things that are actually happening in the world is hard and sad but also necessary and this is an important book. This had no YA tropes partly due to the fact that Naila and her boyfriend Saif got together and fell in love before the book started which was nice and this is the only book I’ve read were that has been the case The writing is simple and honest I was completely immersed in the heartbreaking story. Naila is a wonderful character most of the other characters however all blended together she has a big family and I wish some of them could have been more flushed out even Saif was forgettable. the only character that stood out to me other then Naila was Selma her and Naila’s friendship was wonderful and I love that this passes the bechdel test not enough YA features female friendships. A lot of reviews complained about the ending saying everything ended too easily but it didn’t feel that way to me liked it and I thought that it was a bittersweet ending.
Just finished this and it was excellent. Naila's story is heartbreaking in light of how many young women around the world share her circumstances, and yet the book ended on a hopeful note. A very sensitive and deft portrayal of a fraught issue. I'll definitely be recommending this book to others.
I'm conflicted about this book. On the one hand, it was really well written and gave me really powerful feelings. I cried, I raged, I wanted to kill some of the characters. On the other hand, it's just so overwhelmingly depressing. It was just one bad thing after another, and I need stories with more hope than this. I did like it though, and I think it's important to read so that we can understand other cultures.
Written in the Stars was a beautiful, eye-opening book. I read the whole book in one evening, because I just couldn't put it down. Naila was a great main character: smart, sweet, lovable and with a scholarship and a good future ahead of her. The only problem: "You can choose what you want to do when you grow up, the types of shoes you want to buy, how long you want your hair to be. But your husband, that’s different. We choose your husband for you. You understand that, right?’’ Only in this case, it wasn't a matter of telling her to marry the man they chose for her. They forced her to. And I mean they very literally forced her. I won't say too much about it, but it was eye-opening. By reading the book, I learned so much about Pakistani culture, food and traditions. I also appreciated that the author left the religion of the family in the open, because forced/arranged marriages are common in several religions. In addition, the author's note at the end was very important, since there are indeed many sorts of arranged marriages (a forced marriage is NOT an arranged marriage) and you can't treat them all as being equal. The writing style was very fitting. The chapters are short and there are not many elaborate metaphors in the book, which makes for a fast read. However, I thought the relatively simple style fitted the book perfectly, because it allowed you to experience Naila's vulnerability. Also, it gave the novel a very realistic feel and I really felt for Naila. At one point the writing style becomes a little muddled and I wasn't exactly sure what's going on. At the end, I thought: wow, did this really just happen? And I absolutely loved this, because this was exactly what Naila felt. Thus, I think the writing style was perfect! I am really happy I read Written in the Stars. Besides it being a beautiful book, it was eye-opening and helped me understand more about forced/arranged marriages. Definitely a must-read! (I actually wanted to give it 4,5 stars, but that's not possible here... since it's not a 4-star book, it gets 5!)
4.5/5 stars This book is impossible to put down. I know this for a fact, because I tried. I thought if I stopped before the plot picked up too much, I could finish it tomorrow, but 20 min later I gave up and picked it up again. Some books are great for the writing, some for the characters, but this one shone mostly for the story. The writing at the beginning was slightly clumsy, but as the story picked up she could have given up on grammar and punctuation and I don't think I'd have noticed. I just needed Naila to get a hopeful ending.
Its an okay book but nithing i would really reccomend
For more reviews go to: http://best-of-ya.blogspot.com/ Naila is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. She has spent the last seventeen years living a normal American life. Despite their traditions and beliefs, her parents have always allowed her to dress how she pleases, study what she wants, and even go to the college of her choice. The only thing they forbid her to do is chose who she will marry. When they catch her at prom with her boyfriend they are enraged and very disappointed because Saif, although also Pakistani-America, does not come from a “respectable” family. Naila’s parents feel that they have failed her and that the only thing to do now is to spend a month in their homeland so Naila can understand where she comes from and why this is so important to them. Her parents use their time in Pakistan to scout for an honorable boy for her to marry. It’s obvious from the beginning what her parents are trying to do and I think deep down Naila knew but she didn’t want to even imagine that option. Everyone tells her that her fate has been sealed, that her destiny has been written in the stars, and that fighting will only make things worse for her. But she refuses to give up on the life her parents are stealing from her. She fights, runs away, and downright refuses but instead of listening to her, they drug her so she complies. I admire her resilience and bravery. She fought and continued to fight despite knowing that doing so could get her killed. I also admired the fact that she didn’t let this break her. She resigned herself to her new life, yes, but she did so on her own terms once she realized that this was a better option than being empty inside for the rest of her life. At first I was a little apprehensive about the writing style because it was so simple, but I think that is what made it possible for Naila’s emotions to be so well understood and felt. The reader is able to focus on what is happening without being distracted trying to figure out what the author means. This was a little hard to read because of the subject matter. It is heartbreaking to know that there are so many young girls (even in 2015) that are forced to endure what Naila goes through, some with fates ten times worse than hers. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to feel that helpless and hopeless. I have never really understood arranged marriages as I do not come from a culture that practices them, but reading this showed me that an arranged marriage is most definitely not the same thing as a forced marriage. This is a fantastic book that brings awareness to this issue. Definitely read the Author’s Note at the end of the book and Saeed’s guest post over at YA Highway for an even better understanding of the different types of arranged marriages.
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed is one of the most powerful debuts I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I drank it up like it was the last bottle of water in the middle of a drought. Everything about it was absolutely flawless. The writing was beautiful. The characters were dynamic and real. The setting was immersive. The friendships and familial relationships were complicated and detailed and amazing. The romance was heartwrenching and painful and so so so good. I fell in love within a sentence and I’m still just as in love now as I was then. When I think of this book, I get a little bit of a smile on my face, but I feel a little bit of a tug in my chest, too. It’s the kind that just sticks with you, even if you can’t put your finger on why. Personally, I have almost nothing in common with Naila. My parents are trusting, open-minded, and supportive. I’ve never been taught that boys were any different than girls beyond basic anatomy, and I’m thankful for that as an adult. In spite of our differences though, and they’re genuinely almost endless, I felt like I understood Naila. She, as a person, transcended her circumstance and spoke to me on a level that went deeper than I expected it to. Naila is a young Pakistani girl, the only daughter of conservative immigrants that believe an arranged marriage is the best option, and that there is no other. She gets to make her own choices in every other aspect of her life, but… Sometimes love chooses you, doesn’t it? Nothing attests to that more than her relationship with Saif, a boy who’s been exiled by her parents and the rest of the Pakistani community because of his sister’s choices, and when her parents find out, they’re livid. They believe it’s their fault, that they’ve let their daughter drift too far into Western culture, so they arrange to take her back to Pakistan so she can reconnect. On the trip, we get a beautiful immersion into the Pakistani culture and environment, and we get to meet her family, colorful and vibrant and lovable. Unfortunately, we also meet the true reason for their trip: the man they’ve found for Naila to marry. Not only that, but they want her to marry him now. There was so much more to this book than parents who force their daughter into something, though. The intentions behind her parents’ actions, although they’re deplorable, were genuine on some level, and that was a whole layer of pain that I wasn’t expecting. That can be said about everything in this book: even the people who make you angry, the ones you hate, the ones that make you furious, there’s a reason behind their actions. There’s empathy there somewhere. Everyone is real and honest, and no one is one-dimensional or “evil” or “wrong” in a black-and-white way. Nalia’s hovers in the gray – the painful, painful gray where what others think is best for you and what you actually need aren’t the same. It delves into a part of growing up that some of us don’t realize we’ve experienced until we’re already past it. The author writes a strong girl and a beautiful tale, but the most heartbreaking part of this story is how for some girls, it’s not entirely a work of fiction. This story could very easily be their life. It’s troubling, honestly. Aisha Saeed, the author, did a Q&A over at Story and Chai that was eye-opening and amazing to read, so please take a look at it. And please, please, please read this book.
This review was originally posted on my blog Belletristic Books. Written in the Stars is the kind of book that I can’t say I enjoyed. However, that had nothing to do with Aisha Saeed’s writing style. It was all to do with how tragic I found Naila’s plight. I couldn’t help but be appalled by the way her family treated her. Despite the fact that parts of this tale may leave you frustrated and in tears, I believe it’s one that everyone should read. Prior to starting this story, I didn’t know much about Pakistani culture. Written in the Stars opened my eyes up to a whole other lifestyle. Like with any way of life, I saw pros and cons with the customs of the Pakistani community in Florida where Naila grew up as well as with her extended family in Pakistan. While it was insightful to learn about their traditions, I felt for Naila as she navigated dealing with her life and the life her parents wanted for her. At the beginning of the book when she is still in Florida, she is constantly having to make excuses to her friends and boyfriend as to why she can’t participate in normal teenage events such as going to a school soccer game or the prom. The author brilliantly portrays Naila’s struggle to appease her parents while being true to herself. To me, she seemed like the perfect daughter. She does basically everything her parents ask yet she sometimes questions some of the actions of her family. For example, Naila is quite vexed as to why she always has to attend events with other Pakistani families since Imran, her younger brother, is usually excused from them. The answer is never really given but seemed astonishingly clear – she is a girl and is meant to entertain others. Even though Naila does break her parents’ rule about dating, I think they really overreacted. They refused to listen to Naila’s side of the story when it comes to her dating Saif. Her folks decide the family should visit Pakistan after learning that Naila has a boyfriend. Although a vacation seems normal, they proceed to essentially hold her hostage in a foreign country as well as force her to marry a man she barely knows and doesn’t love. I can understand how arranged marriages are a custom. But there’s a difference between having Naila agree to marry someone her family approves of versus selling her off to make sure she has no way back to Saif and the life she knew in Florida. After Naila learns of the plot to marry her off and once she is married, she is trapped in some very terrifying circumstances. I thought the injustices of her situation were truly atrocious. Naila’s family – and then her new family after she is forced to marry – are more interested in what others are saying about them instead of her well-being. It was crazy to me how simple gossip can bring down one individual’s entire life. The thoughts of the community should not be enough to cast a person out and completely shun them. I would’ve liked to see more of Naila’s relationship with her best friend, Carla, who is only mentioned a few times near the start of this book. I understood that Saif and Naila have a bond. But I wanted more scenes of them together to further get their love for each other. After I finished this tale, I was left wondering what was the fate of Selma, Naila’s cousin who she becomes quite close with while in Pakistan. In spite of a few characters I wanted further connections with, Written in the Stars is an important book showcasing a lifestyle I don’t think is often advertised. I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars because I consider it an essential story since I’ve never before read about a girl forced into an unwanted marriage. Kudos to Saeed for providing a glossary, author’s note about how arranged marriages aren’t always bad, and resources for those looking for further information or to help someone in a similar situation to Naila’s.