Promising Azra by Helen Thurloe

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Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760113278
(Age: Middle - Senior Secondary) Recommended. Forced child marriages. Cultural awareness. Chemistry. Pakistani culture in Australia. Azra is a happy, bright student who excels at Chemistry and is studying for her HSC exams. She and her family live in Sydney, arriving about four years earlier from Pakistan, sponsored by her uncle and aunt who also employ her mother and control many aspects of the family's lives. The family adhere to strict religious and cultural practices that take priority over all else. Azra is expected to look after Soraya, her 5 year old sister, and to cook for the family when she gets home from school. Her older brother Rashid has few restrictions, he has lost his license, often doesn't come home at night and does nothing to help around the house. When Azra has the opportunity to take part in a national chemistry competition she is not allowed to attend, partly because of a cultural event but also due to concerns about her associating with boys. It becomes increasingly apparent that the family intends soon to arrange her marriage to an older relative of the family back in Pakistan. This is not uncommon in Azra's cultural group and girls she knows respond differently, from excitedly planning every aspect of the wedding to running away to a state refuge to avoid it, abandoning family and community. By clever negotiation and determination Azra manages to attend the science competition and becomes even more certain that she wants to complete her education before marriage. Her story becomes gripping as we learn the consequences of her decisions and where she finds support.
The author researched the issue of forced marriage in Australia and her intention with this book 'was to give a voice to girls who can't perceive, or properly articulate, the options they might have around choosing a life partner.' (Author's note.) The story does this in a sensitive and engaging way including snippets of interesting chemistry, including the chapter headings which use chemical terms to mirror the action. Recommended reading for middle to senior school girls and teachers looking for insight into the issues. Recommended for more information in Australia is My blue sky website.
Sue Speck