When Zarin Wadia dies in a car crash with a boy named Porus, no one in her South Asian community in Jeddah is surprised—what else would you expect from a girl like that?
Originally from Mumbai, half-Parsi, half-Hindu Zarin moved in with her aunt and uncle after her mother died. The family relocated to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to escape rumors about Zarin’s mother’s death, plunging her into a world of abuse and gender-based restrictions against which she rebelled. It was only after Porus, a Parsi friend from Mumbai, moved to Jeddah for work that Zarin began to reconsider her behavior—and her capacity for love. Featuring a diverse cast of Arab and South Asian characters of various classes and faiths, the story is a gripping and nuanced portrait of how teens, both boys and girls, react to patriarchy (the novel contains graphic descriptions of abuse and sexual assault). Bhathena’s prose can be stilted, and her excessive use of multiple voices limits both character development and the resolution of some storylines. In addition, the beginning and ending chapters narrated by Zarin’s ghost feel disjointed from the otherwise searingly realistic narrative. All in all, though, the book is a fast-paced, fascinating read about a community rarely seen in young adult novels in the West.
A refreshingly nuanced narrative about gender in the Middle East. (Romance. 16-adult)