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Skunk Girl


Skunk Girl

Sheba Karim’s debut novel is a healthy mixture of flirting, crushes fulfilled and thwarted, embarrassing moments in the cafeteria, and annoying conflicts with overly controlling parents. What makes SKUNK GIRL somewhat different is its protagonist: a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim girl living in a cloistered upstate New York town, population 11,250. And while many of the problems she faces are similar to those of her privileged white peers (grades, boys, parental pressure), her perspective is vastly different.

Although Nina Khan hasn’t been to Pakistan (she makes her first pilgrimage toward the end of the book), the strict traditions of her heritage are always present. Unlike her best friends, big-mouthed Bridget and rosy-eyed Helena, she isn’t allowed to date. Or go to parties. Or wear flashy clothes. Or do anything besides study hard, think about studying hard, and follow in the footsteps of her clean-cut and brilliant, Harvard-attending older sister, Sonia. Even though Nina loves her parents, sometimes her life feels like a prison sentence.

And then there’s Asher Richelli, the transplant from Pisa who has captured the eyes and thoughts of every girl at Deer Hook High --- including Nina’s. When she’s not worrying about how to please her parents or how to get the dark, coarse hair to disappear from her upper lip, arms, legs and back, Nina’s mind is completely preoccupied with how to get Asher to like her. Or why that would never happen in the real world.

Although Nina’s obsessive talk gets a bit old at times (but what teen obsession doesn’t?) and the way it all shakes out in the end seems a bit too “evolved” to be true (but isn’t that what readers will probably hope for in the end?), there are many elements of SKUNK GIRL that are vibrant and one-of-a-kind. Karim’s descriptions of Pakistani dishes are especially mouth-watering, and her depictions of Nina’s tittering relatives and family get-togethers are hilarious and endearing. The pressure to date (and eventually marry) a “good Pakistani boy” while remaining a responsible Muslim girl (who knows her place) is felt and delivered in a non-oppressive way.

Readers will get a kick out of a story featuring a character whose background may be nothing like theirs, but who is someone they can relate to all the same. They’ll appreciate --- and maybe admire --- Nina’s sense of humor about her predicament, and they’ll root for her in her quest to win Asher’s heart. The jury is still out on what the future will hold for Nina (and for those like her). But if what Karim has written thus far is any example, she’ll probably be fine.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on March 31, 2009

Skunk Girl
by Sheba Karim

  • Publication Date: March 31, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
  • ISBN-10: 0374370117
  • ISBN-13: 9780374370114