Sixteen-year-old, half-Parsi and half-Hindu, Zarin Wadia and her eighteen-year-old childhood friend from Mumbai, Porus Dumasia, die in a car accident on a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Prior to Zarin’s death, she was an orphan who lived with her abusive aunt and uncle. She was the centre of her school’s gossip with her rebellious sneaking out with guys in their cars and smoking. As Zarin’s story is pieced together through the events and multiple perspectives leading up to her death, readers and characters learn that there is so much to Zarin than simply just a girl like that in Tanaz Bhathena’s novel, A Girl Like That.
When I read the book jacket, what instantly read to me was “…Saudi Arabia…” My first inferences were about gender discrimination, gender inequality, and the vulnerability of girls in a patriarchal society. While reading this book, I did see these themes but what Bhathena wrote made me realize how self-identity comes into place with these issues. I can connect this into a western world because as a female teenager, I live in a reality where society defines us without letting us define who we are first. For example, on a cover of a magazine, we feel expected to look a certain way. Also, when an assaulted woman reports, they blame her for her ‘choice of wear,’ she fears for her safety and disbelief. This price comes with judging ourselves and questioning the status quo, and this was what happened to the main characters in the novel.
I met Zarin and her class enemy, Mishal, where Bhathena made me realize that these characters have so much in common. I liked how Bhathena shared the feminine perspectives of the two opposing characters. This made the concept of femininity powerful by having Zarin rebel against society’s status quo and Mishal abide with the norm. These two characters are symbolic and evoke the types of women we see struggling in silence and protesting for feminism today. It made me realize that we are not alone in this and it is a story about finding who you are. I felt that Bhathena was writing to the girls who feel very lost about themselves. She and her story made me realize that I am more than just a ‘girl like that’ if I do not conform to society’s status quo, just like Zarin and Mishal taught me.