Monday, February 26, 2018

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

I am thrilled to be part of the Canadian blog tour for Tanaz Bhathena's A Girl Like That. I am even more thrilled to be kicking off to the tour with Erin over at Quillable! The novel releases tomorrow so be sure to pick yourself up a copy.

Follow along with the rest of the blog tour for some great reviews, and each stop will have a question that Tanaz kindly took the time to answer for us.

Here is my own question for Tanaz. I was struck by the beautiful cover for the book and wanted to give Tanaz a chance to discuss it a little. I had interviewed her as part of my 2018 Most Anticipated event and this was something I hadn't gotten to focus on.

Q: The cover of this novel is incredible. What was the cover design process like for you? Did you get to provide any input into the cover? 

A: I agree, it’s absolutely incredible! I was lucky that the designer, Beth Clark, read the book and really got the story and the main character. She came up with an amazing cover concept from the very beginning.

I got to provide a lot of input, which again I’m very thankful for, as many authors don’t get to have much say in their covers. I was very clear on how I wanted the model portraying Zarin to wear her scarf as it contained clues about her personality. I wanted to make sure she looked modern but, at the same time, like someone who lived in Saudi Arabia. My publisher was great about listening to my suggestions, they understood me and this book perfectly. 

Very early on, before I had even seen a cover concept, my editor had asked me for my ideas for the cover. I was hoping to somehow incorporate a Jeddah landmark—either the King Fahd Fountain or the Island Mosque (both actual settings in the book) and had provided them with pictures of both. Beth surprised me by using that early suggestion, too, and beautifully incorporating the Island Mosque into Zarin’s sunglasses! This, till date, remains my favorite part about the cover.

A huge thank you to Tanaz for taking the time to answer all of the questions the bloggers on the tour sent in. I am excited to see what the other bloggers decided to ask her!

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
Release Date - February 26,  2018
Publisher Website - Raincoast Books
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  336 pages
My Rating - 4.5/5
**received for an honest review from publisher**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
A timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved.

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. It 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.
A Girl Like That is both unique and universal. It is a story that feels fresh and new, and yet is so profoundly relatable to so many. This book tackles important topics like abuse, sexual assault, and bullying. While those who may be triggered should be mindful picking this novel up, those who do red it up will find a nuanced, though provoking look at some timely issues. Issues that are handled deftly and thoughtfully which makes for a great conversation starter and a engrossing reading experience.

Zarin is a multifaceted character who is having the universal experience of growing up. She is a teenager who is learning, making mistakes and finding out who she is. She is presented as many things to the reader, and like the other characters in the book you may make assumptions about her. These assumptions are torn away as you get to know Zarin and who she really is and perhaps even change as the story unfolds.

The narrative device of getting to know a character after her death is two pronged. We have the growing sense of dread as the story progresses because we know how it ends. It also makes her character a little more tragic. We spend a lot of the novel wondering what will lead to her driving down the highway on the day she dies which ensures that every moment holds a sort of significance to her story. It makes the reader attached to this character even before we get to know her. This also works with Porus whose character holds significance from the moment he is introduced because we know what awaits his character. It is a narrative that is effect and especially in this case where it is so perfect for the story being told.

The most striking part of this novel is how universal Zarin's story is for girls of every culture. There are elements that are unique to this character, and the particular religion and culture she is part of, but the basic elements are the same. Girls and women are held to different standards than boys and men. They are vilified for things that their male counterparts are permitted to get away with because ‘boys will be boys’. It, at times, felt like Zarin couldn’t breathe without being judged for it. Are the decisions that Zarin makes always in her best interest? No, of course not. She is a flawed, complex character who is not perfect and this seems to be unforgiveable if you are female. We see male character do exactly what Zarin does, and yet she is the one that is gossiped about. She is the one with the reputation. She becomes 'a girl like that'. It is so achingly recognizable that I think many people will relate to her story.

A Girl Like That is a timely book. It fits nicely with the current #MeToo movement and paints a heartbreaking look at how rape culture fits into the reputation Zarin has and how alarmingly common the experiences she has are. This is a book with a lot to say about rape culture and it is a book that demands to be discussed afterwards which  makes it perfect for book clubs.

Tanaz B has impressed with me with her quiet and well written debut read. I eagerly await whatever she decides to tackle next as she did a tremendous job tackling the heavy topics found within A Girl Like That. I highly recommend this one be read with a friend and discussed after. I predict it'll be part of the conversation long after its initial release. 

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