Title: Promising Azra
Author: Helen Thurloe
Genre: YA / Family / Suspense
At sixteen years-old, life is just beginning for Azra Ajmal. She is smart, and looking forward to finishing high school and beginning university. When she wins a place in a national science competition, it seems like her dreams are starting to come true.
But her family has very different plans for her.
Further education and a career in science are out of the question – instead, they have organised for her to be married to a cousin, who lives in Pakistan. In just three months time.
Time is ticking for Azra as the countdown to her wedding begins. Can she find a way to convince her family to put a stop to it all? Or will she have to sacrifice her relationship with them in order to pursue her dreams?
The second I saw this book on my Twitter news feed, I knew I had to read it. I was immediately captivated by the premise; a young girl in Australia faced with the difficult cultural tradition of an arranged marriage – or, in this case, a forced marriage.
I immediately loved Azra as a character. She is an intelligent girl filled with ambition and determination, but she is also honest and vulnerable. She is initially quite naive of her family’s intentions for her, but her character growth throughout the story is impressive. She blossoms into a young woman who is unabashed about taking control of herself and her life. In her social context, this was a huge deal and showed a lot of guts.
I couldn’t get over the contrast between the expectations placed on Azra and those placed on her brother, Rashid. While he lounged around on the couch watching television, she was expected to cook and clean and look after their younger sister. When he was arrested for drug-related issues he was barely scolded by their family. Talk about frustrating. Their family was very patriarchical and it was interesting to see the way that this played out and caused conflict.
The information was well-researched and the story felt very authentic. I’m no expert on Pakistani culture (or on science terminology), but I immediately found myself immersed in Azra’s world. This story provides a powerful, insightful look into another culture and their traditions. Although Promising Azra is a work of fiction, it is based on true events – things like this actually happen in Australia and worldwide.
The writing style is very clear-cut and direct. It’s all straight to the point and doesn’t waste time with over-flowery descriptions. I really enjoy this kind of writing – at the bottom of every page I couldn’t wait to turn over and keep reading. Being over 360 pages long, I thought it would take me at least a couple of days to read Promising Azra, but no… I ended up reading the whole book during a lazy Saturday – I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened to her. Every page is filled with suspense and a daunting sense that something bad is about to happen. I was overwhelmed by how much I cared about Azra and what happened to her – it felt personal.
As a woman, and a feminist, I think that this book is really important for young people to read. It is horrifying to discover that young women/girls in Australia are being forced into marriages they do not want. Forced marriages are not specific to any one culture or religion, but in Azra’s family – which adheres to strict Islamic tradition where the honour of the family is more important than that of the individual – it would bring shame to her entire family for the wedding not to go through. Azra faces the choice of sacrificing her dreams for the honour of her family, or dishonouring her family and going into hiding just to be able to finish her education. For me it was both shocking and enlightening to read about cultural ideals that are so different to my own, every page was tense and totally nerve-wracking.
I absolutely loved reading Promising Azra. It was both powerful and moving in the way it cast a spotlight on the issue of forced marriage which affects so many young women. The characters were beautiful and engaging, and it was impossible to put this book down. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a thought-provoking read and some insight into the cultural traditions affecting young women today.