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A Girl Like That — Tanaz Bhathena

Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 384
Price: Rs. 193 INR(Kindle Edition)
ISBN: 978–0143443018
Buy here: https://amzn.to/3bHIsm7

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. This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers; tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class and religion; and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

About the author

Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. Her short stories have appeared in various journals, including Blackbird, Witness, and Room Magazine. A Girl Like That is her first novel.

My take on this book

The blurb mentions about the protagonists found dead and how the story unfolds to take the reader though their journey. This itself is main reason for anyone to pick the book, where the end is revealed on the first page and while you know how it is all going to end, the curiosity to know what exactly happened in between is what keeps the reader hooked till the end.

In Indian fiction space, there is a clear lack of stories around YA(Young Adult) fiction while this is a thriving genre elsewhere. This book is one of those firsts to deal with the issues around people entering adulthood.

The story happens mostly in Jeddah with few sequences in Mumbai; the culture and societal norms play a major role in the story and since the author herself spent few years in all these places, all details mentioned are first-hand.

Zarin so as a lot of other characters we come across in the story are from dysfunctional families, with not enough love and care from their parents and siblings, forcing them to look for that affection outside the families and in the process turn into rebels and bullies. Smoking, skipping classes, running anonymous gossip sites, going on dates with random guys, the boys and girls seem to have liking for all things unconventional.

The story takes sometime to get into rhythm and once Porus comes to Jeddah the story picks speed, since the first few pages are mostly to introduce the main characters. One interesting aspect is that every few pages in the book are told from each characters’s perspective. Zarin, Porus, Mishal, Farhan, everyone narrate the happenings from their perspective which helps reader to hear the story from all the main characters.

The story is not a fun concept rather a dark, realistic take on certain societies, abuse that goes unreported and unrealized, how kids seem separated on basis of gender, religion, country, color and what not. It is a great debut by Tanaz, from the concept to story telling to writing style to character development, everything is awesome about the book. Even before I could complete it, I wanted to go back and re-read again from start, though it is not a quick read with nearly 400 pages. However, I wish the story had more to showcase about Zarin — about her dreams for future and about her studies. The extreme abuse and hate shown towards her by her Masi is uni-dimensional and doesn’t seem to have a proper justification.

My rating