Diverse Reviews: A Girl Like That & The Astonishing Color of After

A Book Like That: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena 

Summary: Zarian Wadia is known for many things in her Saudi Arabian community. She’s the daughter of a criminal, an orphan, a brilliant English student. She’s the girl that parents warn their children to stay away from. After all, when your romances are the subject of endless gossip in school, it’s got to be true. Right? So why is it that Porus Dumasia only has eyes for Zarian? And how do Zarian and Porus end up dead together in a car accident on a Jeddah highway? As Zarian’s story is pieced together from multiple perspectives, it’s clear that Zarian wasn’t exactly a girl like that.

 My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

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 My Thoughts:

A Girl Like That  was one of my anticipated releases of 2018. I saw a ton of positive hype for the book before its release in February 2018. Since the majority of YA contemporary books I read take place in the US, I was excited to read a book with a different setting, Saudi Arabia. Definitely a bit more light-hearted aspect of this heavy book, but I loovveeeee A Girl Like That’s cover (give me all the pink covers, please).

 A Girl Like That is told in multiple perspectives. While over half of the book is told from Zarian’s point of view, we also get POVs from Porus, a guy from Zarian’s childhood who has recently moved to Saudi Arabia, Mishal, one of Zarian’s classmate who antagonizes her, and Farhan, the school heartthrob. Not only did these other POVs provide insight on Zarian, but they also represented different upbringings in the Middle East. It’s no spoiler that Zarian and Porus die in a car accident because it’s the very first thing we learn in the beginning of the book. By no means did this eliminate any suspense for me.

A Girl Like That is tremendously eye-opening, as we see what it’s like not only to live in Saudi Arabia, but being a woman there. Many of Zarian and Mishal’s interactions with men were very disturbing and the book overall spreads light on systematic oppression against women. For example, Zarian and Mishal’s guardians debate between having the girls marry right after they graduate high school, with some suitors being almost double their age. Both girls, like many, have no say in this matter. While Zarian is probably a bit more outspoken out of the two, I loved how Mishal fights for her dream of being a psychologist against her father and brother’s wishes. I also appreciated all of the discussion about how girls’ appearance or actions are not to blame for getting guy’s attention and attraction. You aren’t “asking for it”.

Some other disturbing, but eye-opening aspects of A Girl Like That include abuse and rape. Zarian does not have the best relationship with her aunt and uncle, and it was heart-breaking to see witness her and her aunt’s interactions. In addition, some of the plot in A Girl Like That revolves around rape and date-rape. Tanza Bhathena shows that violence against women can happen anywhere.

Overall, I really enjoyed A Girl Like That for shedding light on culture and life in the Middle East in the YA world. The book is definitely heavy, but I flew through it. I loved Tanaz Bhathena’s writing and I found myself not wanting to put this book down because I needed to know more about Zarian. She definitely is not a girl like that.

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Give Me More Tissues & Magical Realism: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

 Summary: If there’s one thing that Leigh is sure about, it’s that when her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Soon after her mother’s death, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time, and she’s determined to find her mother, the bird. While searching for her mother, Leigh finds herself wrapped in family secrets, meeting ghosts, and haunted by the fact that on the day her mother took her life, she kissed her best friend Axel for the first time.

 My Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 My Thoughts:

Magical realism is one of my least-read genres, but The Astonishing Color of After caught my interest for its focus on family the hype. After reading, I would now pick up more magical realism if they were all like Emily X.R. Pan’s storytelling because the magic was phenomenal.

Other than Leigh seeing her mom as a bird, magic really comes into play when Leigh travels between the past and present. Her use of incense and family heirlooms was such a creative way to learn more about Leigh and family’s background. I didn’t suspect at all that perhaps some people couldn’t see what Leigh saw at all. It definitely made for some whaatttttt (the best) reactions from me towards the end.

The Astonishing Color of After is such a diverse read for a few reasons:

  • Leigh is half white and half Taiwanese. I enjoyed how we get to explore Leigh’s Taiwanese culture and heritage alongside her. Leigh’s best friend, Axel, is half Filipino and half Puerto Rican.
  • LGBTQ rep
  • Mental health representation. Leigh’s mother struggles with depression, and as highlighted in Emily X.R. Pan’s author’s note, there was no single reason for her mental health problems.

As you may assume from the book’s title, Emily X.R. Pan’s writing was enriched with color. It set the perfect mood, and I loved how Leigh and Axel often described how they were feeling by what color they felt. The only “reference” I didn’t appreciate as some readers might was the incorporation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry (you didn’t hear it from me, but while I appreciate her work, I’m not the biggest Dickinson fan..). And this totally isn’t necessary and probably impossible, but I would have loved to see some of Axel and Leigh’s artwork because it sounded so cool!?!? Can someone make some fanart versions asap please??

Overall, I enjoyed The Astonishing Color of After for its focus on family, relationships, and unique take on magical realism. I’m looking forward to seeing what Emily X. R. Pan comes out with next!
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Have you read A Girl Like That or The Astonishing Color of After? Share in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “Diverse Reviews: A Girl Like That & The Astonishing Color of After

  1. I knew I wanted to read The Astonishing Color of After Haley… and you don’t dissuade me from that desire… but make me more excited!! On the other hand I didn’t know I wanted to read A Girl Like That!! It sounds amazing and even better than TACofA!! I love the that it’s multiple POV and and she tin Sadia Arabia. Great reviews Haley! ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

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