Stuff and Nonsense: Skunk Girl


6.09.2013

Skunk Girl


I stand naked in front of my full-length mirror and twist my head to get a good view of my back. And that's when I see it. A wide line of soft, dark hair running the the nape of my neck down to the base of my spine -- the stripe Asher was talking about. A stripe down the center of my back, like a skunk. This brings me to a whole other level. I'm not just a hairy Pakistani Muslim girl anymore.

I am skunk girl.

Fifteen-year-old Nina is a Muslim Pakistani American girl with parents who have very firm views on correct social behavior: no sleepovers, no dates, no co-ed parties with her predominately white classmates. While Nina chafes at the restrictions, she remains an obedient daughter and muddles along -- thanks in some part to good friends who support Nina and help her work around the social restrictions without causing her to disobey or lie to her parents.

Besides, some of the restrictions are no big deal. After all, who is going to want to date hairy, big-bottomed Nina, The Sister of "Super Nerd?" No one, that's who. Better to just focus on getting through high school and escaping to college as her sister did. But getting through high school is hard ... especially when Nina develops a deep (possibly mutual) attraction to a handsome new classmate.

I found Nina's story compelling, touching on issues many teenage "outsiders" face. But, despite its strong message of self-acceptance and self-definition, Skunk Girl never felt like a mawkish Teen Novel With A Message. For all the emotional/philosophical upheaval Nina experiences, the tone of the novel is up-beat and funny, and even early on it the novel you get the feeling Nina will be okay in the end. While her discomfort over her family's otherness is palpable, it's clear Nina loves her family and does want to be a good Pakistani Muslim American girl. She just needs to define what that means for herself.

Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009)

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