• Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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Skunk Girl

Recommendations: Booklist; Bulletin-Center Child Books; Kirkus Reviews; School Library Journal

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Author Statement

Sheba Karim,
On How She Came to Write
Her Debut Novel,

When I was young, there weren’t any books about South Asian, let alone Muslim, teenagers growing up in the United States.  Then, a few years after South Asian literature became “hip,” young adult novels with Indian protagonists slowly began appearing on the shelves of bookstores.  I read them eagerly, and, though I liked all of them in different ways, I still felt that they didn’t speak to what my own experience had been, as well as the experiences of many others like me.  Almost none of these books were about Muslims, or Pakistanis. In most of the books, the teenage protagonists had loving, healthy relationships with their parents, viewing their parents as a source of support rather than a potential obstacle to their happiness.  Though nearly all of the protagonists had difficulties fitting in, by the end of the book, they had confidently embraced their hyphenated cultures.

In my experience, the quest for your own identity, cultural and otherwise, never really ends. Though it may become easier, I believe that we spend our entire lives trying to figure out who we are and how we fit in, and one trip to India or Pakistan, though certainly beneficial, will not solve our struggles for identity, for our own moral code, for which expectations we can live up to and which ones we must thwart.  As Nina’s sister tells her in the book, “You very well may be wrestling with these questions of faith and morality and guilt for the rest of your life.”  I really wanted to write a book about a Muslim teenager that addressed the complexities of these issues in a way that felt honest and real, and this was the inspiration for Skunk Girl.

On a very different, but no less important, note, almost none of the books I read addressed what is a common problem for many female teenagers, South Asian and otherwise—body hair.  Not only does body hair exacerbate the problem of otherness, it can be a serious source of shame for a lot of teenage girls, making it even harder for them to feel comfortable in their own bodies.  Skunk Girl speaks frankly about this issue, and sends a message to readers that yes, perhaps body hair is annoying and potentially embarrassing, but it doesn’t make you any less beautiful.