Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim 2009
IQ "But this is my body and this is who I am and feeling sorry for myself isn't going to change the situation, or make it any better. Why direct so much negative energy inward, at something you can't even help? I should reserve any negative energy for the things and people who really deserve it, like men who don't put the toilet seat seat down or people who drive on the shoulder to try to bypass bumper-to-bumper traffic. My name is Nina Khan, and I'm a skunk girl. [...] and this makes me a little different, yes, but not any less beautiful. Not one bit." Nina pg.12-213
Nina Khan is a sixteen year old skunk girl. She is a skunk girl because there's a line of hair running down her back. This is mortifying because her crush Asher Richelli has seen it and she's sure that he'll never like a skunk girl. Also she's not allowed to go to parties, sleepovers, dances and can't be friends with boys and dating is certainly out of the question. All Nina wants is to please her traditional family and fit in with her classmates.
Nina is an amazing main character, She's funny and awkward. She's the only Muslim and Pakistani in her small, predominately white town in New York. People are ignorant and while it annoys Nina she doesn't always speak up for herself. She makes fun of her world with a sharp tongue that she wishes she could use in real life, only in her head is she quick-witted. In real life she says awkward things that ruin sweet or light-hearted moments. Nina never gets too whiny or bogged down in self-pity she keeps (while not always a positive outlook) a funny perspective on everything. The romance between Nina and Asher is so cute. I wasn't expecting the ending between them, but I think it is realistic. Asher is pretty good guy although there were some things I didn't like about him, he's not one of my favorite YA love interests. Nina's two best friends are great; Bridget and Helena. They are complete opposites, Helena is bubbly and gorgeous, she always has a boyfriend and she believes in true love. Bridget is sarcastic, tall and clumsy. However she can ski quite well. Both of them are very understanding of the restrictions Nina has. And while they have boyfriends, they never make Nina feel like a third or fifth wheel. They mature as characters, Helena realizes that she doesn't always need a boy in her life and Bridget learns to take the initiative in relationships. Another growth in a relationship is the bond between Nina and her sister, Sonia. Sonia was a "supernerd" who had no life in high school. Nina wants Sonia's good grades but she also wants a life. They have no relationship to speak of and the gulf between them grows even longer when Sonia goes to college. Sonia does come back and visit and they grow to understand each other better and theirs is a realistic relationship (I think) between sisters.
Each section in the book has a title that ties into the content of the section, oftentimes it's a humorous title like "The Wrath of Khan" or "Next Stop: Street Hooker". Nina's narration if fast-paced we laugh and cringe as she has a series of first and new experiences. Nina's story is universal. While we may not all be skunk girls, every girl can empathize with Nina's story because we all have some body hair in some place or another body issue that we hate about ourselves. We all disagree with some rule or another that our parents have. I also liked how in Skunk Girl, we learn about the different ways Muslims practice their religion. Some pray all the time and some hardly ever. We get glimpses into the lives of Muslim families when Nina and her family go to parties of other Pakistani Muslims. Especially in the discussions between Nina and other Pakistani Muslim girls her age, they aren't very close but they bond over similar issues of trying to balance two worlds. They talk about the challenges of having coarse body hair and dating. Most of the girls are in their first or second year of college, but they accept Nina into their group. One girl's boyfriend has proposed to her, but he's not Muslim or Pakistani. Their mothers all want to arrange their marriages and they don't particularly care if the girls finish college or not as long as they are married. Nina's mom tells her daughters they can marry whomever they wish and they can go to college, but the girls know that she wants them to marry a doctor/lawyer/businessman/engineer Pakistani Muslim and she wouldn't care if they didn't finish college.
Skunk Girl is a fantastic read that everyone can relate to. You will laugh with her, root for everything to turn out well for her in the end and admire her optimism and fresh, humorous perspective. This book is perfect for every high school student who has ever felt left out and had a low self-esteem (I think that's every high school student!). The book isn't predictable, or slow to develop or boring. It's fresh, funny, and fast with some twists. High school and up.