Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Quality of Prose: 4/5
Quality of Story: 4.5/5
Quality of Characters: 4.5/5
Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4/5
How Long It Took Me to Finish: 6 days
(Usually if a book takes me longer than 4 days to finish, it’s because I found it difficult to dive into. That wasn’t the case with A Girl Like That; I was simply really busy this week.)
A 1 Sentence Summary
When Zarin Wadia and her pseudo boyfriend Porus Dumasia die in a car accident on a highway in Saudi Arabia, everyone (including the religious police, Zarin’s aunt and uncle, her classmates, former boyfriends, and even Zarin and Porus themselves) seek to discover how a girl like that with a reputation like hers ended up dead.
My Favorite Quote
“You are girls…You can’t get away with acting like boys.”
What I Loved About It
Seriously, this book is amazing.
A Girl Like That focuses pretty heavily on gender roles and expectations, which is something that never fails to capture my interest. And as an added bonus, it focuses on gender roles and expectations in the Middle East, which has also been a captivating subject to me (ever since I read Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, which is still to this day, my favorite book).
Zarin (and even Mishal to an extent) is a feminist hero. And we need more Young Adult books with those.
Additionally, Bhathena addresses and provokes thought on rape, rape culture, reputation, promiscuity, identity, modesty, love, drugs, racism, religious intolerance, abuse, mental health, and the ever debated “sins of the father” concept with a unique amount of rawness and poignancy.
I think the reason Bhathena is so successful at provoking thought and addressing these admittedly difficult to address themes is because she tells the story from so many different perspectives. Because the story is told from all the important characters’ points of view, the audience is able to see how culture, societal expectations, and reputation affect all kinds of people in the culture, and how they then affect each other, from the easily influenced good guy who makes bad choices (Abdullah) to the “promiscuous” girl with a bad, but unfounded, reputation (Zarin) to the judgmental and cruel but relatable gossip girl of Jeddah (Mishal) to the hero with a heart of gold (Porus) and the rapist with a perfect reputation who learned to abuse women from his rich daddy (Farhan). Hearing from all these different characters creates a rich, vibrant, and complex story that reveals so much more than just how Zarin and Porus ended up dead in a car together.
In fact, it’s actually remarkable how little the story is about their deaths. Though you know from the very beginning that they will end up dead, you will still be shocked and deeply saddened when the crash finally occurs at the very end of the book. Bhathena will draw you so deeply into Zarin and Porus and Mishal and Abdullah’s stories that it will truly pain you when you find that their stories have ended.
Kind of like life, huh?
What My Students Could Learn From It
The greatest thing my students need to learn is empathy. Not only do they not know about the plights of others, they don’t care about them and don’t remotely understand why they should.
A Girl Like That is one of those books that can change that.
My rural, white, small-town kiddos could certainly benefit from learning about another culture, especially a culture that though it at first seems so far removed from our own, reflects our own American culture so well. Students who read this book will find themselves questioning whether their own culture perpetuates the same stereotypes or issues of reputation and identity, whether their own society creates and ignores, like the one in A Girl Like That, a rape culture, whether they are more of a Mishal or a Farhan than they’d like to be.
My students must learn how to critique, change, and improve their own culture and society and how to critique, change, and improve themselves.
And reading A Girl Like That could certainly help them do that.