Review: Written In The Stars by Aisha Saeed

Title Written In The Stars
Author Aisha Saeed
Pages 304 Pages
Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Publication Date March 24th 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
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This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up — but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating — even friendship with a boy — is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed — her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif…if he can find her before it’s too late.

Only now does my jaw unclench, my shoulders relax. And only now do I let myself acknowledge that familiar mixture of relief and guilt that has been my companion this past year.
Has it already been a year? I think back. Yes. It’s been one year since Saif told me he cared about me as more than just his friend. It’s been one year since I told him I felt the same way and kissed him in the side courtyard with the tangled palm trees next to the library, deciding it was time to let my heart, and not fear, dictate what I would do. And – my stomach tightens – it’s been one year since I began deceiving my parents without ever once opening my mouth.

To the outside observer, seventeen-year-old Pakistani-American, Naila, is your average teenage girl. Good grades. Good friends. Good boyfriend. Acceptance to the university and academic program of her choice. For all intents and purposes, Naila has a bright, promising future ahead of her. There’s only one problem. With an arranged marriage a virtual certainty, Naila is not allowed to associate with boys, let alone pursue a romantic relationship with one, which is why she has been keeping her relationship with Saif, a fellow high-schooler and accomplished soccer player, a secret for more than a year. Hoping that all her parents need is a little time to accept her newfound autonomy, Naila decides to continue to hide this relationship until college, a few scant months away, when she can pursue her chosen path without adhering to her parents’ restrictions. They’ll come around, Naila thinks. After all, how can her parents deny her a relationship that brings her so much happiness? But Naila has grown tired of a life filled with deception, excuses and missed opportunities and, in a moment of perilous spontaneity, throws caution to the wind and decides to attend the prom with Saif. When her deception is discovered, however, her life as she knows it is changed forever. School: Gone. Saif: Gone. Freedom: Gone. Naila’s parents whisk her away on what is ostensibly a summer holiday to their native homeland in Pakistan, offering her a chance to reconnect with long-lost family members and with one another. And, at first, Naila is happy. She enjoys spending time with her beloved cousin, Selma, exploring the surrounding picturesque sugarcane and orange groves, and watching her parents light up as they never have before. Then their stay is extended by one week. Then two. As summer comes to an end, her college orientation date approaches and Naila’s parents still show no indication of returning to the United States, she begins to worry. With no money, no visa, no passport, and no means of returning home, Naila is suddenly cast in the unexpected role of prisoner, and her parents her judge, jury, and executioner. All hope seems lost as Naila endures a series of brutal, ever-increasing challenges that will force her to question her perceptions, her relationships and her fortitude as she is drawn down a painful path she never imagined possible.

I watch my mother now. She twists her shawl with her fingers. I hate keeping secrets from her. But how can I explain that I see the world a little differently and my way of looking at the world isn’t bad, not if it means their daughter has found someone she loves, someone who makes her completely and unbelievably happy?
I want to tell her all of this. But I know I can’t. At least not yet.
“Ami.” I look at her, giving her the reassurance she came for. “Trust me, I won’t disappoint you.”

Written In The Stars is not an easy read. It is not a comfortable read. It is not even a particularly enjoyable read. After all, it’s difficult to feel anything other than horror, revulsion and terror as a young woman is systematically stripped of her every freedom, an experience made all the more chilling upon the realization that this is a practice that transcends cultural, religious and geographical boundaries and continues to be perpetrated against women around the world to this very day. No, Written In The Stars is not any of the aforementioned things. Yet even in the midst of a novel filled with unimaginable loss and suffering, Naila’s story acts as a powerful testament to the indomitable strength and triumph of the human spirit and the ever-enduring audacity of hope. In her 2015 release, debut author Aisha Saeed casts new light on the devastating and pervasive practice of forced marriage, in which women are coerced, be it through the use of emotional, psychological or physical force, to enter into a marital union without their consent. While Saeed explores this practice within the context of the Pakistani community, the accompanying author’s note at the conclusion of the novel leaves little doubt as to its continued existence in other communities around the world. Riveting, emotional, and potentially life-changing (and life-saving), Written In The Stars is a debut from a powerful new voice in the young adult market that is not to be missed under any circumstances.

I take a proper breath, my first in ages. Maybe one month away will do some good. Maybe a month is what we all need to decompress, away from phone calls and pointed glances. Maybe one month will help them to be more open to things I need them to understand. Maybe a vacation to Pakistan is the best possible solution there is.

As a character, Naila is extremely compelling and easy to care for as the author balances her gentle innocence and naïveté, traits largely born of her sheltered upbringing, with her fierce intelligence, determination and strength of spirit. Naila’s situation is one that will be all-too-familiar to those who also have experience with a strict upbringing. Although it’s immediately clear that she loves and respects her parents a great deal, Naila struggles to reconcile her comparatively modern beliefs with her Pakistani heritage and her parent’s more staunchly traditional and conservative ideology. While the reader’s initial instinct is to sympathize with the parent’s position, as it’s clear they are acting in what they perceive to be Naila’s best interests, it isn’t long before it becomes clear that their choices, however well-intentioned, are anything but supportable. Naila’s maturity, bravery, and grace under unimaginable pressure and suffering reminds us that strength is not something solely defined by physical acts of aggression, but extend also to even the most subtle acts of rebellion or defiance. Her staunch refusal to give up, to give in, and to accept the fate her parents portray as nothing short of inevitable, will inspire and inflame readers. Saeed captures each moment in breathtaking, painstaking, agonizing detail until Naila’s every thought and emotion begin to feel as real and as tangible as do one’s own. Her optimism. Her fear. Her anger. Her resentment. Her determination. And always, always, her will to survive.

I make my way back home, fighting back tears. I’ve done my best to be positive, to make the best of this situation, but I can’t push away the heavy feeling pressing down on me like I’m suffocating. I unlatch the metal gate to my uncle’s home. I try my best to appear calm and unaffected, but my chest feels like it might burst from pain.
I’m so far away from Saif.
I stare up at this house. It’s my father’s home too. It’s my home, they tell me. But right now, all I can see is a large cinder box that traps me inside.

At only 304 pages, Written In The Stars is relatively brief, but the author makes every single syllable count. Saeed’s narrative style is concise and straightforward, creating a riveting, fast-paced story that is sure to captivate even the most reluctant reader and makes the novel easily digestible in a single sitting. The audience’s understanding of Naila’s intended fate, gleaned long before Naila herself is able to comprehend it, makes the experience all the more fraught with anxiety and tension as the reader can do nothing but watch as Naila hurtles toward an agonizing future she can neither fight nor escape, despite her greatest efforts to the contrary. Saeed’s exploration of forced marriage, a practice that has gone woefully unexplored, particularly in the young adult literary market, promises to breed compassion and understanding, arguably one of the most noble and important goals to which a novel can aspire. As such, Written In The Stars would make a valuable addition to any home, classroom or library as it reveals the startling truth about a practice far more pervasive and devastating than previously understood by many in society, myself included.

I know I will forget many details of this moment, but I will never forget the slap across my face. Or my chacha storming inside, my hands upon the cold conrete floor, the metallic taste of blood in my mouth. I know I will remember the overturned mattresses, the clothing flung from the closet and the moment my father’s hand grazes the cushion by the bed, pulling out the purse – and my phone. I will never forget the way he walked out of the room, locking the door behind him and throwing away the key to the life I could have had.

Hope. It’s what gets us through the day. It’s what allows us to dream of a brighter tomorrow. A better motivator than fear, a greater comfort than anger, hope can make even the most difficult and the most dire of situations seem manageable. Survivable. It is also the very thing that infuses each and every page of Aisha Saeed’s gripping, unvarnished 2015 debut. A novel that casts light on the previously unexplored and devastating practice of forced marriage, Written In The Stars offers a diverse, compelling, and fast-paced reading experience that sows the seeds of change for the future in its ability to empower readers through the use of education and empathy. Although set against the landscape of Pakistan, Naila’s story surpasses cultural, religious and geographical boundaries and acts as a stark reminder of the absence of freedom women around the world grapple with everyday. Hopefully with inspiring works such as this one to guide us, women’s future autonomy over their education, their bodies, their sexuality, and their futures is what will eventually be written in the stars.

Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advance reader copy and therefore might be subject to change.

7 Responses

  1. Fantastic review, you’ve definitely persuaded me to pick this book up. Being forced to marry someone is something I can’t even imagine. You hear about these things, but it’s such an abstract concept. I’m glad that a book like this one now exists in YA to shed some light on the topic and I look forward to reading this book and gaining a greater understanding.
    Kristen recently posted…Book Spotlight: Rain of the Ghosts by Greg Weisman (Author Interview)My Profile

    1. Thank you so much, Kristen! I couldn’t agree more – You often hear about issues such as this on the news, but it’s hard to grasp how prevalent and dangerous it truly is. It’s so easy to sympathize with and become attached to Naila and Aisha Saeed certainly uses this to best advantage to make this issue a much more personal and devastating one for the reader. I can only hope this book will see a widespread distribution in schools and libraries, as I think many readers will benefit from reading Naila ‘s story.
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Simon vs. The Week-Long Celebration: GiveawayMy Profile

    1. Goodness! Thank you, Zoey! It really is difficult to imagine a situation like this as it’s all too easy to feel far removed from a practice that feels as though it can never happen to you, but I think Aisha Saeed bridges that gap very nicely. The author perfectly captures the tension, immediacy and terror of a forced marriage and Naila’s story feels all the more important because of it. I can only hope this book will find its way into the hands of many young, impressionable readers who will learn a little more about how prevalent this practice truly is. Hopefully greater knowledge and compassion will lead to positive changes for the futures of millions of other girls who find themselves in a position similar to Naila’s .
      Jen @ Pop! Goes The Reader recently posted…Simon vs. The Week-Long Celebration: GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Oh wow, Jen. I hadn’t heard too much about Written in the Stars, to be honest, except for a few friends who have said it was something that should be read. I really enjoyed seeing what you had to think of it, and I love that you felt like it really explored a reality that isn’t often touched upon in literature (particularly YA). Here’s to hoping I get my hands on a copy soon!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Time Travel To: Regency EnglandMy Profile

  3. The novel is fiction, but the situation is real. Aisha Saeed has portrayed a situation we see in many clients. If you are currently facing a forced marriage situation or trying to help someone who is, please go to

    Additionally, for anyone wanting to call attention to the emerging serious problem of forced marriage in the U.S., and to call on the President to create a national action plan to tackle it, please go to to endorse this online petition at If you have had personal experience (yourself or friends/family) with forced marriage, and feel comfortable sharing, we encourage you to include that in the comments section when you sign the petition. By doing so you will add to our understanding about the impact of the problem here in the U.S. and to the urgency to address it.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!