It may seem strange to recommend Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars, Lori Goldstein’s Becoming Jinn (out 4/21), and Sally Green’s Half Wild together in one post. Besides being YA new releases, what do they have in common?
Not much if you compare their characters, settings, and plots. Written in the Stars is about a Pakistani-American forced into an arranged marriage. In Becoming Jinn, Azra doesn’t want to turn sixteen, even if she does become a drop-dead gorgeous and magically-gifted Jinn. Half Bad and Half Wild are about Nathan’s complex identity as half White Witch and half Black Witch. But what ties them together is how their protagonists struggle with the issue of destiny.
Written in the Stars opens with seventeen-year-old Naila living in America and having no clue that she will soon travel to Pakistan on a vacation that will become an arranged marriage. Although her parents’ strict rules prevent her from having much of a social life, she’s deeply in love with her secret boyfriend and she’s going to college in a few months. Since Saif is Pakistani-American too, maybe her parents will eventually approve of their relationship? However, after Naila is caught attending prom with Saif, her dreams of going to college and being with him are shattered. Will she be able to escape her unwanted marriage? Can she still choose her own fate?
Becoming Jinn also explores what it’s like to not have control over your own destiny. In the opening scene, Azra is trying desperately to cut through a silver bangle, but nothing she conjures–a chisel, a hammer, a wrench–can free her from becoming a Jinn like her ancestors. Now she must value Jinn sisterhood above all human relationships (including friendship and romance with cute boys).
What I like most about Azra is that even though she doesn’t want to accept her new identity, she’s generally good-natured and witty. She isn’t consumed with self-pity and she enjoys her new powers that include wish-granting. You’ll also quickly learn to put your assumptions about Genies aside while reading this book. Goldstein has created a unique and interesting world of the Jinn, especially considering their secret co-existence with humans and complicated relationship with the elite Afrit.
Sally Green’s Half Bad trilogy also explores the question of destiny in relation to complex notions of identity and world-building. In modern-day Europe, witches secretly coexist with humans and are divided into two warring factions: White (“good”) versus Black (“bad”) witches. Nathan, as a half code, is at the heart of this conflict. Is he White or Black? Good or bad? He’s not sure and neither are the witches.
The White Witches consider him an abomination and threat, since he’s the son of the world’s most evil witch, Marcus. The Black Witches don’t trust him either and think he’s spying for the White Witches. Then there’s his father, whom (in Half Bad) he must find by his seventeenth birthday to give him the three gifts that will become his own magical powers. But his father doesn’t trust Nathan either, believing his son is destined to kill him. As Nathan struggles to understand his fate and where he stands in the conflict (which worsens and becomes more complicated in Half Wild), whom can he trust? Is he destined to be either good or bad? Is being a half code a gift or a curse?
All three writers explore the difficulties of choosing your own destiny when restrictions are severe, choices are very limited, and being rebellious means risking harsh punishment or death. Do they even have free will? Have their destinies been pre-determined or will they be able to choose their own fates?
Alyssa Raymond recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult) for Coven Book Club and its newly-launched sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, Netgalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.