Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Title: The House of Djinn
Author: Suzanne Fisher Staples
Genre: YA
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Published: 2008
Pages: 224

Rating: 3 out of 10

The storyline here is - A young girl in modern Pakistan is struggling to find her place in a world where family life is a battle, and Islamic traditions confuse and frustrate her. Her life takes a shocking turn when she discovers that her mother Shabanu, supposedly dead for years, is actually alive, her beloved grandfather falls ill, and her place in the family is reversed.



Suzanne Fisher Staples could have, and certainly has in the past, done better.
This one never captured my attention, save for small snippets here and there that richly describe the setting of exotic Pakistan. However, a handful of sentences peppered through this book are far from enough to save it.
I disliked it - the characters are defined on the surface, and then left. For example, Leyla is immediately depicted as cruel, selfish, conniving. And stays that way. Not that this is bad, but I felt that the author didn't think she needed any character development.
Also, the plot was a mess.

The supposed villain of the book, Nazir, is built up (though, not well) through-out the story as an impending threat. The author describes him as "a tiger without teeth." However, besides being mentioned a few times, he never appears until the end of the story. And in fact, the main character faints during the time that Nazir actually emerges, and is only briefly told about it after she wakes up. Nazir never even speaks once in this entire book, and is barely mentioned. This makes him the weakest opposing character I have ever heard of.
Another character who could be called a villain, Leyla, is a cruel woman who finds joy in humiliating the main character, Mumtaz, into being her servant. She is built up a bit more, and certainly far more prominent than Nazir. However, toward the end of the story, she simply vanishes. There is no conclusion to her and Mumtaz's struggles.

The entire storyline was incredibly weak, jumped from focus to focus, and was ridiculously blunt and abrupt.
Lastly, I felt cheated by the ending. Through out the story, Mumtaz's mother Shabanu references the pain that her arranged marriage caused. She loved another man, who also loved her. He too was forced to marry someone else, unhappily. Arranged marriage is portrayed as hurtful, and the reader simply assumes that the author does not support it.
So, I was very surprised when, at the end...

**SPOILERS**

...it is arranged that Mumtaz will be married to her cousin. Both of them have crushes on other people, and neither of them wish to marry. At first, they rebel against their family's decisions. They even attempt to run away.
It seemed apparent that Staples was sending a message - old traditions must give way to new, and forced companionship can never rival true love and freedom.
But then, suddenly, within a few pages, Mumtaz and her cousin decide that actually, their family is right. Without warning, their views change, they follow the arranged marriage, and honor tradition.
The ending seems more like the end of a chapter than the actual end of the entire book - not because the author used a cliffhanger (that would have taken away another star from this book, so I am glad that the author didn't try that "Buy my next book!" trick here) - but because it simply wasn't... Conclusive. I said to myself "Okay... What now?"
This book had an entirely unsatisfactory ending, a message that made absolutely no sense, and one of the weakest supposed villains ever.

Not recommended - read Shabanu instead, but don't bother with this sequel.