Review: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

My Review

Zarin was an orphan who lived with her Masa and a rather abusive Masi. She is shown to have a terrible childhood, deprived of love and care, which is one of the reasons why she becomes more and more reckless the older she gets. The only stable thing in her life is Porus, who loved her so selflessly and I never understood why. Because no matter what Porus did for her, she never gave him any respect or returned his love.

The blurb may have mislead me into believing that this book was going to be about a girl, who was misunderstood all her life, a victim of baseless rumours and the story that will unravel after her death will put her in new light. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, Zarin throughout her life was always targetted gossip of the girls at school, who said nasty things in front and behind her back but most of it was always true. Zarin is not your typical heroine, she was an obsessive smoker and chose to be self-destructive by hanging out with shady guys, she was rude and sometimes almost cruel with the words she spoke. For almost half of the story, I did not like Zarin at all. Most of the problems in her life I thought were created by her own defiance. I was beginning to have extremely mixed feelings about this book.

But it was only when I finished reading this book did I realize that it was never about Zarin. Sure it’s mainly about her life, her affairs, her relationship with her Masi, the rumors and gossip she had to deal with it but more than that this book was a brutal attack on the patriarchal and a hypocritical society we live in. Told in the perspectives of several characters, this book clearly highlighted how men and women are subjected to different rules in every walk of life. And I think that part of the story was brought out beautifully and heartbreakingly by Mishal. Somehow her character resonated with me more than Zarins’ did. She seemed like a realistic teenage girl, who is deprived of any kind of power in her house and so tries to assert it everywhere else. She is constantly shown to be torn between her conscience; a part of her even admires Zarin and her defiance, while another part of her that’s been brought up amidst the patriarchal mentality wants to shun her for her choices. Her growth throughout the novel was just amazingly done.

This book was extremely well-written because even while it handles extremely dark topics like rape and abuse, the book is easy to read, it’s fast paced and doesn’t drag at any point. The ending however did break my heart in so many ways; it just made me sad to realize that we live in a world that’s so painfully unfair. I love the message that this book is trying to send out through its characters and setting and for that all alone, I absolutely recommend picking this book up.

Ratings: 7.5/10

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