Newbery honor book, 1990.
Synopses & Reviews
This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Nailas fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
Nailas 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 upbut they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, datingeven friendship with a boyis 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 Nailas vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changedher 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 its too late.
Life is both sweet and cruel to strong-willed young Shabanu, whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. The second daughter in a family with no sons, shes been allowed freedoms forbidden to most Muslim girls. But when a tragic encounter with a wealthy and powerful landowner ruins the marriage plans of her older sister, Shabanu is called upon to sacrifice everything shes dreamed of. Should she do what is necessary to uphold her familys honor—or listen to the stirrings of her own heart?
About the Author
Aisha Saeed (aishasaeed.com) is a Pakistani American writer, teacher, and attorney. Her writings have appeared in publications including The Orlando Sentinel, Muslim Girl magazine, and Rivaaj magazine. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping to change the conversation about diversity in literature. She is also a contributing author to the highly acclaimed Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, which features the story of her own (happily) arranged marriage. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons.
Reading Group Guide
1. How is the life of Shabanus family affected because the family has no male children? How is their financial well-being affected? Explain how having no brothers has shaped Shabanu. Do you believe that having a son is a high priority for a family in your culture?
2. Many people love animals, but Shabanus affinity with the camels, especially with Guluband and Mithoo, is extreme. What freedoms does Shabanu obtain from her job of caring for the camels? List things she learns from the camels that help her to understand human beings.
3. When Shabanu begins to realize that Guluband might be sold, Dadi says, “What Allah wills cannot be changed” (p. 49). How does Shabanu feel when it really happens? Why does she reject her impulse to take the animal and run away (p. 56)? Later (p. 63), Shabanu has intellectually accepted her fathers decision, but emotionally it is a different story. Explain why she feels she has lost her joy, her freedom, and her identity. How do you interpret her statement (p. 85) that the experience has taught her “both the strength of my will and its limits”? How does this foreshadow later events?
4. One of the novels minor themes is the relationship between father and daughter, a tricky one in any culture. What makes it even more complicated in Pakistan? Note the times when Dadi acts from his feelings about Shabanu and those when he follows tradition. For example, examine the scene when the camels fight (pp. 23-26). When Dadi does things “for her own good,” is he being a responsible father, or is he trying to break her spirit? How do you think American culture affects father-daughter relationships?
5. Shabanu is the name of a princess. Considering our Shabanus character and station in life, what is appropriate and inappropriate about her name? At the bazaar in Rahimyar Khan (pp. 70-74), do you think it is her name or her nature that causes the shopkeeper to give Shabanu the valuable gifts? Defend your answer with examples from the story. The shopkeepers kindness touches Shabanus heart. Explain how her gratitude may be more important than the items themselves.
6. In the United States, how long are the young considered children? How long does childhood last for Muslims? At thirteen, Phulan is supposed to be a woman. Point to her conflicting feelings about her role and her forthcoming marriage to Hamir. Why does she wear a black chadr?
7. A dilemma is any situation requiring a choice between equal—often equally unpleasant—alternatives. Explain Shabanus dilemma when she and Phulan meet Nazir Mohammad and his hunters. Shabanus choosing to save her sister from rape leads to the storys climax. On p. 154, why is Shabanu angry at her sister? “She was asking for it” is still used as a defense by rapists. Does Shabanus anger show an antifeminist response or is she, too, a victim, but a victim of her culture?
8. Irony is the use of words to express something other than—often the opposite of—their literal meaning. The chapter explaining that Phulan will marry Murad and that Shabanu is promised to Rahim is titled “Justice.” First discuss the irony of the title, then look at the decisions made in this chapter in terms of the customs of Shabanus society.
9. Shabanu has always displayed her independence, and her mother has been understanding. Why do you think her mother slaps her when she says she will go to live with Sharma? Sharma accuses the family of having bought Phulans happiness and their security by selling Shabanu. Do you agree or disagree? How is this arrangement different from their having arranged Shabanus marriage to Murad? Defend or attack Dadis argument.
10. Sharma tells Shabanu she has two choices: Keep Rahims interest by learning the tricks of women or come to live with her. Considering the culture and Shabanus character, predict what she will do. What would you have done?
11. What is Sharma meant to represent in the story? Is she wise or simply a rebel? Shabanu faces her future armed only with Sharmas advice: Keep your innermost beauty locked in your heart. What does this mean? Do you think it will protect Shabanu?