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Skunk Girl

Skunk Girl

3.5 4
by Sheba Karim

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If Nina Khan were to rate herself on the unofficial Pakistani prestige point system – the one she's sure all the aunties and uncles use to determine the most attractive marriage prospects for their children – her scoring might go something like this:

+2 points for getting excellent grades
–3 points for failing


If Nina Khan were to rate herself on the unofficial Pakistani prestige point system – the one she's sure all the aunties and uncles use to determine the most attractive marriage prospects for their children – her scoring might go something like this:

+2 points for getting excellent grades
–3 points for failing to live up to expectations set by genius older sister
+4 points for dutifully obeying parents and never, ever going to parties, no matter how antisocial that makes her seem to everyone at Deer Hook High
–1 point for harboring secret jealousy of her best friends, who are allowed to date like normal teenagers
+2 points for never drinking an alcoholic beverage
–10 points for obsessing about Asher Richelli, who talks to Nina like she's not a freak at all, even though he knows that she has a disturbing line of hair running down her back

In this wryly funny debut novel, the smart, sassy, and utterly lovable Nina Khan tackles friends, family, and love, and learns that it's possible to embrace two very different cultures – even if things can get a little bit, well, hairy.

Editorial Reviews

Karim's first novel provides a rare exploration of Muslim culture and will be a welcome addition to teen collections.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Whether they share Nina's circumstances or not, readers will readily identify with her struggle, and they'll find her an endearing and admirable literary companion.
13 Rebecca
This was a fun read that left me . . . thinking.
age 13 Cecelia
Pleae write a sequel
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Eleventh-grader Nina struggles with her Pakistani-Muslim identity and all that it entails. Her parents are strict and won't allow her to date. She also struggles with an abundance of dark facial and body hair, especially the stripe of hair down her back. Because she is the lone Asian student at her small high school in upstate New York, she feels isolated. Worse, her "supernerd" sister, Sonia, has left high academic expectations in her wake. When the boy she has a crush on shows an interest in her, Nina is both surprised and uncertain of what to do. She struggles with the values of her parents and her own feelings about right and wrong. She comes to a conclusion that leaves the story both satisfyingly unresolved and true to Nina's character. The author is nonjudgmental about Nina's decisions that are in conflict with her parents' beliefs, such as experimenting with alcohol, but through Sonia is also able to portray a character who is more comfortable abstaining. There are a lot of different plot elements, and the story is really more about Nina's development than about any single issue (such as her hirsuteness, as the title suggests). This is a solid choice for libraries in which Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007) and Ten Things I Hate About Me (2009, both Scholastic) are popular.-Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Kirkus Reviews
"[T]here are only two types of people who spend their Friday nights in high school at home-Pakistani Muslim girls and future serial killers." Although Nina Khan was born and raised in small-town Deer Hook, N.Y., and has never visited her parents' homeland, she must adhere to their rigid cultural and religious beliefs, including no sleepovers, alcohol or dating. With dark skin, a wide bottom and an overabundance of body hair that makes her a "skunk girl," what are her chances of dating in the predominantly fair-skinned, closed-minded town anyway? But when Italian Asher transfers to her high school, she dreams of romance for the first time. In this debut, episodic novel, rife with smart, self-deprecating humor and set in the 1990s just as a phenomenon known as e-mail is gaining interest, Nina searches for identity and emerging independence while accepting the reality of her home life. For another look at a teen making tough choices as an outsider in her own country, pair with Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007). (Historical fiction. YA)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
8.32(w) x 5.76(h) x 0.82(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

The Keera in My Brain

I’m a giant in the sky flying over crimson-roofed houses, dressed in

a wool turtleneck and jeans. It’s hot and I’ve started to perspire, a

fine drizzle of sweat that falls onto the village below. That’s when I

see a group of elves walking single file. They’re carrying hot fudge

sundaes, lots of whipped cream and no cherry, just the way I like

them. As I’m about to swoop down and attempt to steal a sundae,

someone grabs my shoulder. It’s a ghost, and it knows my name.


“Nina.” The ghost is still gripping my shoulder. My mother. Her

hair is tied tightly back and nearly every inch of her face is covered in

white cream bleach.

“Wake up, beta,” she says. Her fingers smell like onion and chili

powder; she’s already made breakfast. She always likes me to start the

school year off on a full stomach. “It’s your first day of school!”

She says this as though I should be excited. Though it is indeed

the first day of my junior year of high school, none of the feelings

swilling around in my head bear any relation to excitement. In fact,

they’re pretty much the opposite of excitement. After spending much

of the summer reading the two SAT prep books my parents had

bought me, it’s easy to come up with possible antonyms. Unenthused.

Disinterested. Reluctant.

My mother shakes her head. “Sonia was always so excited to start

a new year of school, but you never want to get out of bed.”

I sit up. “I’m awake now, Ma. Happy?”

“I made you an omelet,” she says. “Hurry up before it gets cold.”

And so I rise, and so begins another year. Another year of social

exile, another year of not fitting in, another year of not measuring up

to the legacy left by my sister, Sonia, another year of wishing I were

someone else, someplace else. Who on earth would be excited about


My father’s in the kitchen and extends his arms out wide as soon

as he sees me. I brace myself. He’s a small man, but bearlike in his

affections, often testing the capacity of my lungs to withstand intense

pressure in the form of zealous embraces, though as I’ve become

older, the duration of these embraces has lessened. “Nina!” he booms

cheerily, squeezing me for a second before letting go. It’s a rare

moment when my father isn’t in a merry mood. If we were white and

Christian, he’d be one of those dads who dress up as Santa Claus

every Christmas. “Ready to ace calculus?”

“I’m not taking calculus till next year, Dad,” I tell him. His forehead

furrows. Sonia, of course, started calculus in her junior year,

which is probably why he looks so confused.

“Don’t worry, you will be soon!” he says, as if calculus were some

major milestone every teenager aspires to achieve.

My father has no surgeries scheduled at the hospital this morning,

so after we eat my mother’s omelets he offers to drive me to school,

which is fine with me since I don’t have my license yet and it’s embar-

rassing to be seen stepping out of a yellow school bus when you’re a

junior in high school.

As soon as we get in the car my father puts on his favorite kind of

music, qawwali, Sufi mystical music. Sometimes, when he gets really

into it, he sings along and does this gesture with his right hand, like

he’s unscrewing a lightbulb. But today he stays still. It’s a little too

early in the morning for musical theatrics, even for my father.

We drive past rows of houses with small yards and swing sets and

the occasional inflatable pool, and stop at the light in front of the old

roller rink, which was shut down a few years ago and has been abandoned

ever since, weeds and shattered glass blanketing the steps to

the entrance. Back in 1986, when I was in fourth grade, this roller rink

was the epicenter of the social scene. I used to hate having wheels on

my feet. When I did go roller-skating I’d hold on to the wall that bordered

the rink as the other kids raced by me, skating hand in hand, or

backward, or both. Mostly when I went I sat around with my friends

Bridget and Helena, and sucked on red and green ice pops, the kind

wrapped in plastic that you squeezed from the bottom up.

We take a left and then a right onto Main Street. The words “Welcome

to Deer Hook” are painted across the brick wall of a store, also

abandoned, which is next to another abandoned store, which is next

to the offtrack betting parlor, where already there are a few old men in

stained clothing loitering outside, the necks of liquor bottles sticking

out from the paper bags in their hands. Deer Hook’s Main Street has

a bad half and a better half, divided by the main intersection, the only

intersection on Main Street that has a traffic light.We cross the light

into the better half and I can tell you the order of what we pass without

looking: the movie theater, the Italian restaurant La Traviata, the

Ming Dynasty Chinese takeout place, the pizzeria, the taxidermist

shop with the stuffed moose head in the window. I’ve spent my whole

life in this town and nothing here has really changed, except for some

businesses shutting down and never reopening, like the roller rink. In

this town, things aren’t reborn or reinvented. Everything that doesn’t

stay the same either dies or goes away.

For as long as I can remember I’ve pretty much hated Deer Hook,

population 11,250. When I was in middle school, I had a game that I

liked to play. I would close my eyes and touch a globe ever so lightly

with my finger. Then I’d spin it with my other hand. Wherever my

finger landed when the globe stopped spinning was where I was

going to end up living, and I would yell out the name of my future

home. “Australia! Egypt!” If it landed on someplace like Kansas or an

ocean, I cheated and spun it again. “Brazil!”

One day, my father walked in as I landed on New Zealand. “New

Zealand!” I shouted.

“What are you doing?” he asked. I explained. My father raised his

bushy eyebrows. “You have a keera in your brain,” he told me. Keera

is the Urdu word for “insect.” What my father meant was that I had

something in my brain that was giving me strange ideas, like wanting

to live halfway across the globe. This was a bit hypocritical, considering

he had moved halfway across the globe, but I didn’t mention this,

because he would have said, “That’s different.” Instead I imagined

the keera in my brain. He was a friendly-looking insect, like a cricket,

with big, powerful green eyes that could see the world beyond Deer

Hook, beyond Albany and New York City, all the way to New


My father pulls into the circular driveway in front of Deer Hook

High, a U-shaped one-story building with a statue of Henry Hudson

in front of the entrance. There’s a ton of people milling around, talking

and laughing, most of them familiar. Huddled together by the

statue is a group of nervous freshmen. “Have fun!” my father says.

My fingers tighten around the door handle. Once I exit this car,

there’s no going back. It’s not that I hate high school, it’s just that I

wish it would hurry up and end already. But I suppose to understand

this, you have to understand the story of my life thus far. The dread

I’m now feeling is a culmination of years of dealing with things that

end in “shun,” at least phonetically: repression, suppression, exclusion.

My name is Nina Khan, and growing up, there were two things

that especially plagued me. The first was my sister.

Excerpted from Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim

Copyright © 2009 by Sheba Karim.

Published in April 2009 by Farrar Straus Giroux

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

SHEBA KARIM was born and raised in the Catskills. She received an M.F.A. in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and presently lives in New York City. This is her first book.

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Skunk Girl 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
epicrat More than 1 year ago
Although skunk girl channeled the typical girl-likes-boy-but-too-uncool-to-get-him-to-notice story, I thought it was still pretty unique since Nina came from a South Asian background. One of my very good friends from college is Pakistani, so as I read skunk girl, I was picturing my friend as Nina and wondering how her high school experience went. Not to mention, I could semi-relate to Nina's experiences since I am Vietnamese - a similar social situation, though I would say that Nina was more successful in breaking free earlier :) Yet I was not entirely convinced that Asher was worth all that effort. He might have that dreamy Italian accent, but I got the impression that he was quite a "player" even if he did not seem arrogant and did not mean to break every girl's heart. But I guess I cannot fault Nina - who can resist looking at the pretty boys, even if they may not be Mr. Right? The great thing about skunk girl is how realistic I found it. I laughed at Nina's woes concerning her South Asian "curse" and sympathized as her parents heaped responsibility and tradition upon her, but I hoped that she would eventually appreciate her parents, her family, her culture. Nina chooses to sneak out to a party in hopes to see Asher and do some underage drinking with her friends, but quickly finds out that it may not be for her. It was nice to see Nina make not the greatest decisions and learn from them. skunk girl was a pretty cute book with a narrator who had a great sense of humor as she experienced her growing pains. It reminded me of Bend It Like Beckham, but with less soccer and more high school drama.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is such a good book. My class is doing book club, but in seperate clubs. When my teacher said who is interested in reading Skunk Girl, I was the only one who raised my hand, till she said who had a thought about it and three girls raised their hands. I was so embarresed to be the only girl who wanted to read the book. Now I have a really cool group. This week I am the illastrator. You should read it some time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago