“You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that.”
by Tanaz Bhathena
Review by: Lizzie
Sixteen-year-old Zarin Zadia never fit in among her peers. She embraced her womanly figure, smoked, and snuck off with boys, all things frowned upon in the society of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. When Zarin and Porus, a deli worker with eyes only for her, are found dead after a car crash, her story leading up to that fateful moment is pieced together little by little through different perspectives to create a mosaic of beautiful storytelling.
Despite taking place in a land very different from where we live, the story contained universal characters who were easy to relate to — you have Zarin, the beautiful rebel, Mishal, the goody-two-shoes with a mischievous streak, Porus, the non-traditionally handsome leading man, and Farhan, the attractive jock with slightly malicious tendencies. As with any good story, every character has a motive behind everything they say and do, but what made these characters special was the fact that they were raised in an environment that most of us were very unfamiliar with, really highlighting the cause and effect relationship between their environment and the actions they carried out over the course of the novel.
Told through a number of different points of view, Zarin’s story proves to be complex and compelling, with each character offering their own opinions to the mix. The storyline flows seamlessly despite the skilled switches between perspective. The story flows from one event to the next, almost entirely in chronological order, and the dance back and forth between characters created an interesting web — one character would do something in their own point of view affecting another, and then perhaps the next chapter it would be the effects of the aftermath on a different person. This was never distracting or confusing, but rather showed the interrelations between the different people and the ripple effect that every action has, no matter how small.
Perhaps one of the most striking things about Tanaz Bhathena’s A Girl Like That is how flawlessly she conveys Jeddah. Despite the vast cultural differences between Saudi Arabia and the western world, it never becomes confusing. Important cultural aspects of the story, such as the religious police, are explained in a way that is easy to understand without detracting from the story. Bhathena also throws in the occasional Arabic word or two which makes the story even more authentic to the culture that it is representing.
Reading is one of the ways that we experience different cultures that we don’t have the means to access in our own lives and Bhathena certainly created that. She transported me from my bedroom to Zarin’s word in Saudi Arabia effortlessly. It was refreshing to experience something so new and vivid in the realm of realistic fiction, and eye opening to realize that there are people who are living Zarin’s story in real life.
Overall, the novel was amazing. The vivid descriptions of Jeddah jump off the pages ad the characters come to life in your mind’s eye as you follow them through Zarin’s story. The suspense of the mystery behind Zarin and Porus’ death is held up until the final chapters, the story building up until the inevitable moment when the world comes crashing down around them. A Girl Like That was a beautiful read that I would recommend to anyone looking to step outside of their comfort zone and embrace a totally new kind of heroine.