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A Girl Like That

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
A Girl Like That Book Poster Image
Compelling tale of teen rebellion, tragedy in Saudi Arabia.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Gives readers a window into the lives of characters almost never written about: young non-Muslims coming of age in a strict religiously conservative Muslim country. Zarin remembers her former life in Mumbai, India -- the sights, smells, food, the repression and violence often experienced by women in that country. Glossary of words and phrases in languages that the characters use: Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Avestan. 

Positive Messages

When you look beyond the gossip about someone, you may be surprised.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Zarin has had a really rough and often heartbreaking time growing up: born illegitimately and then orphaned, living with an aunt who physically abuses her, and then moving to a new country where being a half-Hindu Zoroastrian makes her an immediate outsider with almost everyone. It's no wonder she has a rebellious side. But she's smart and tough, which enables her to finally stand up for herself against her aunt and any boy who tries to take advantage of her.

Violence

Throughout childhood, Zarin beaten by her aunt. Aftermath of bloody car wreck described. A character is brutally beaten for revenge, and a man is shot to death. Teen boys drug girls and assault them. The fact that unwanted babies and girls are sometimes murdered is discussed. "Is it permissible for victims of domestic abuse to retaliate with deadly violence or other illegal action?" is the hotly contested topic in a high school debate.

Sex

Lots of talk about who's a good rule-following girl and who's not (Zarin), and gossip about which teens may or may not be having sex or even simply kissing. One character reads porn magazines, watches porn online. A boy sees his father having sex with their maid. A teen sends out a video clip of his "home run" with a girl.

Language

"Pissing" and "crappy" are used a few times.

Consumerism

Characters drive Nissans and BMWs, drink Pepsi, read The Hunger Games, and use Facebook and Tumblr.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several of the characters (including Zarin) regularly smoke cigarettes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tanaz Bhathena's novel A Girl Like That is the story of 16-year-old Zarin Wadia, a very unconventional and rebellious girl who lives in one of the world's most culturally conservative countries, Saudi Arabia. Already an outsider because she's a half-Hindu non-Muslim from India, Zarin scandalizes her classmates by smoking cigarettes and riding alone in cars with boys. As readers learn in the very first chapter, her life ends suddenly and tragically. The story then unfolds in flashbacks (told in the alternating chapters by Zarin, her friend Porus, and two classmates), and readers discover that Zarin was far more than the rule-breaking troublemaker she'd been branded. There are some graphic episodes of violence as characters are beaten, a man is shot, and teen boys drug girls and then assault them (although that's not described). There's no strong language beyond "pissing" and "crappy." This novel should prompt serious discussions about violence against women and girls and their right be to treated equally no matter where they live.

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What's the story?

A GIRL LIKE THAT begins at the end of the story, with the death of 16-year-old Zarin and her 18-year-old friend Porus on the Al-Harameen Expressway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No one, it seems, is surprised that Zarin -- known as a reckless and rebellious girl -- had her life end in a tragic car accident. It almost seemed fated. She was born illegitimately in Mumbai, India, the daughter of a bar girl and a hit man for the local mob. After her mother's death, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle, who move the family to Saudi Arabia. By 16, Zarin is skipping school and breaking the rules against smoking cigarettes and riding in cars with boys. Not caring about the rules in Saudi Arabia can be a dangerous thing, as the religious police are always on the lookout for teens behaving or dressing in ways not thought appropriate. Zarin dates a boy whose disapproving sister bullies her and gossips about her on social media, and she develops a crush on a popular boy who turns out to be a sexual predator. Only when Porus, a boy she knew from her childhood in Mumbai, reappears in her life do things seem to turn around for Zarin ... if only for a brief time.

Is it any good?

This compelling and thought-provoking coming-of-age novel tackles serious issues of religious intolerance, women's rights, and class and racial prejudice. Even though A Girl Like That is set in a country whose rules and traditions will be light-years away from the lives of most teens, the characters still have struggles and challenges they can relate to: mean girls at school, gossip, jealousy, dating, and sex.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the strict cultural and religious rules that characters in A Girl Like That are expected to follow. Would you rebel like Zarin or would you follow the rules?

  • Are there ways in which girls in your school or community are treated as second-class citizens? What's acceptable behavior for boys but not for girls?

  • What do you have in common with the characters in A Girl Like That? What experiences do teens share no matter where they live?

Book details

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