Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review - A Girl Like That

Going almost blind into a book, not having read reviews at all, and not knowing what to expect, is something I haven't done in a while.

The cover of A Girl Like That didn't promise much - I thought it would be your typical YA book, with a teenage heroine besieged by challenges on all sides and finally emerging triumphant, having conquered all.

I was partly right, because it IS a book peopled mostly by teenagers. But BOY, was I wrong in every other sense.

For one thing, AGLT begins with the death of its chief protagonist, Zarin Wadia. We see her looking down at the sight of the car crash that killed her. And instead of feeling sorry for herself and wondering why things have turned out the way they have, she can't wait to get away from her life; she feels glad that she has died. What, we wonder, can have been so bad in her life that she is glad that she is dead?

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. Her parents died when she was little, her aunt beats her, she has no friends at school. To top it all off, she is living in a repressive society where girls aren't allowed to even meet boys they are not related to. She has just one friend in the middle of all this - but the problem is that he is in love with her, and she doesn't feel the same about him.

A Girl Like That is about everything that is most essential to us as human beings - the security that comes from knowing you are loved, the knowledge of where you fit into society, the safety of having a place to call home.

No, let me be more accurate - it's about what happens when you DON'T have all these things. How self-destructive you become, how defensive, how confused.

And yet, AGLT isn't a depressing book at all, somehow. It sparkles with life, with Zarin's little rebellions, her continuous attempts to get away from everything that she hates in her life. She manages to get herself little freedoms, despite shuttling between a prison-like school and a depressing home.

The knowledge that a particular character is going to die soon doesn't usually result in much emotional investment, but in this case I was almost rooting for Zarin, even as she makes mistake after mistake, even after she rejects the one guy who could have helped her out.

All in all, I think I will definitely be looking out for more from Tanaz Bhathena. What an accomplishment of a first novel!
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