High school is hard enough, but add on the pressure of being the younger sister of a "Supernerd" as well as the only Asian or Muslim in her class and it's no wonder that Nina Khan feels a little out-of-sorts. Though Nina loves and appreciates her parents, she wishes they would let her have more of a social life. Though they are very kind, her parents are pretty strict when it comes to things like dating. She's now allowed to date, nor can she go to parties or school dances. When her friends are out and about on Saturday nights, Nina's expected to stay home and study.
The majority of residients in their little town of Deer Hook, New York are white. Nina and her older sister Sonia, who is now at college studying to become a doctor, are first-generation Pakistani-Americans. Her parents both came from middle-class families in Pakistan. They are intelligent, confident adults who regularly encourage their daughters to stay true to their Muslim values.
Since first grade, Nina has found solace in her two awesome best friends, Helena, a vibrant, ever-cheerful redhead, and Bridget, a tall blonde who is usually clumsy yet extremely graceful on the ski slopes. Now juniors in high school, the three girls are as close as ever. While Helena and Bridget can date whomever they like, Nina can't bring up the nerve to ask out Asher, the new boy on campus. Her tongue gets tied around him, and she knows her parents would disapprove of her dating an Italian boy.
Nina's first person narrative is insightful and allows the readers to learn of (and relate to) the fears and worries which she can't vocalize. Similar to the chapter markings in Everything Beautiful in the World by Lisa Levchuk, each brief chapter in Skunk Girl bears a title appropriate to the events which take place in that section's pages. The book's title comes from the stripe of hair Nina has running down the center of her back - something that her crush sees, much to her mortification, because it starts at the nape of her neck.
This is yet another YA novel I will recommend to both teens and adults. This recommendation is not only due to debut novelist Karim's heartfelt writing, but also because the story takes place in the early nineties and thus will definitely appeal to readers who were teens at that time. (The music references will bring you back there in a second. At home, Nina listens to a Smiths mix tape; when the song Jump Around plays during a big party scene, it will start playing in your head, too.)
My favorite quotes from the book include:
My heart has turned into a Russian gymnast, leaping and swinging about the parallel bars that were once my rib cage. - Page 35
My kindergarten teacher told us that wishes that don't come true float up to the sky and sit on top of the clouds, and when the clouds become too heavy from the weight of these wishes, it rains. That night, I make so many wishes that I wouldn't have been surprised if a monsoon struck Deer Hook as I slept, flooding the streets and canceling school. I wish. - Page 103
Maybe someone should write a self-help manual. How to Embrace Yourself and Stop Wishing Your Life Away. After all, I am who I am and I look how I look and I have to learn to accept it. Accepting yourself, though challenging, seems achievable. Actually embracing yourself seems like the tough part. - Page 108
I spend the rest of the day annoyed that Asher might have told Serena he loved her and wondering what my life would be like had I been born a white girl. Then I'd have a mother who'd help me buy a prom dress and a father who'd take pictures of me and my date posing on our porch, and maybe I'd be the kind of girl Asher Richelli could fall in love with. - Page 117
In the comments below, Color Online asked me to share the link to their Color Me Brown Book Challenge.