Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review - Secrets of the Henna Girl

Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed

Secrets of the Henna Girl -Sufiya Ahmed
Straight off, I’ll say that Secrets of the Henna Girl is a book that I think all teen girls should read.  And then pass it on to their brothers, friends, mothers and fathers.  It’s hardhitting realist fiction without the grit. Charmingly, it reads like a sunshine-laced thriller.
Picture this.  You’re sixteen years old. You’ve finished your GCSEs. You’re having fun with your friends and you’re brimming with anticipation and excitement for what college and your future holds. That is Zeba Khan’s life – and she’s happy.  

But in a flash, without warning, this is all wrenched from her. A family holiday to Pakistan and the announcement of what will be a forced marriage snatches everything from Zeba. And she is scared, scared, scared that her parents are going to let this to happen to her. How could her father do this?!!!

From here on, Secrets of the Henna Girl starts to read like a tense thriller: a couple of teenage girls have been trapped, virtually imprisoned and they’re in real danger if they try to escape. But they’re also in danger of losing their freedom (or even their health) if they don’t escape. And for anyone who tries to help them – well…..!!! This story will have you on tenterhooks the whole way through as Zeba deals with family betrayal, loneliness, entrapment, imprisonment, complicated friendships, honour, death, and guilt.

Amidst the tension, there are also some truly individual and inspirational women characters: Zeba’s Nannyma, Zehar, Farhat and Nusrat-kala. For all the seriousness of the novel, these characters fill the story with the beautiful warmth that the book's cover conveys.  And they will have you quietly chuckling too.

Without a doubt, this is an ‘issues’ novel tackling the problems of forced marriage and honour. The novel makes it clear that forced marriage is illegal in the eyes of Islam and that it is a human’s rights abuse under the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It also explores the myths that bond religion with tradition and highlights the impossible situation of having to choose between self and family honour. 

Above all, Secrets of the Henna Girl urges people to have courage in standing up for their individual rights and the rights of others – including women and girls!

Publication details:
Puffin, 2012, London, paperback

This copy: uncorrected proof sent by Puffin


Come back here this Friday 15 June when Sufiya Ahmed answers questions about forced marriages and other important issues that her book raises.


  1. I haven't ever head of this one before. But I definitley want to read it now.

    1. I think you will like this book, Viv. There are parts that are 'enjoyable' but it's also one of those stories that make you want to shout out no, no, no, how can this happen!

  2. Secrets of the Henna Girl sounds like the kind of book I like to read sometimes and I hope it comes out in the US so I can. This is such an important topice in today's world.

    1. I hope it comes out there for you too, Alex. It is such an important topic and one that a lot of people aren't really aware of.


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