Books for Teens that Show Not Every Happy Ending Looks Alike
“Leaving you and the kids. Khudahafiz.”
Maria Sulaiman’s world collapses when she finds the note meant for her father. Her mother has gone, leaving behind only a message on a Post-It note that doesn’t offer an explanation. Her father is unmoored, and her younger brother, Saud, retreats even further into his own world. Maria realises that her mother was the glue that held the family together, and Maria must do whatever it takes to find her if the family has any chance of surviving.
When She Went Away is a story for kids that explores the life of a 16-year-old girl struggling with a burden no child should ever bear. It’s a young adult book, but it deals with topics we often try to shield young adults from. The entire book is based on the premise that a woman could willingly leave her children, and author Andaleeb Wajid treats Maria and her family with both sensitivity and realism. Wajid has created a central character with whom readers can empathise, even if we can’t completely fathom her experiences. Maria’s relationships with her father and Saud are complicated, but they are as raw and real as any family relationships tested by the best and worst of times.
Perhaps the only part that had me rolling my eyes and skimming pages was Maria’s relationship with Kabir, her classmate and love interest. It’s hard to imagine a girl obsessed with finding her mother giving so much thought to deciphering the looks of a boy she barely knows. The relationship only becomes believable once Kabir goes from being Maria’s kind-of-sort-of friend to her best friend whom she trusts enough to share her secret. This is because meaningful communication is what Wajid does best, whether it’s two best friends pouring their hearts out to each other, siblings getting into a fight, or Maria grappling internally to make a decision.
The book covers one year after the disappearance of Maria’s mother, and at times the reader feels like the plot is racing through time. But character development keeps pace, as the family learns to survive without imploding and as Maria’s determination to find her mother becomes less about keeping the family together and more about seeking answers. When She Went Away is among the best books for teens trying to survive their emotional roller-coaster. It’s a great lesson in the complexity of relationships, believing in your strength, and knowing that not all happy outcomes look alike.