Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed

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Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A look at forced (rather than arranged) marriages set in a story with great characters and a plot which kept me turning the pages long after I would normally be asleep. Highly recommended and particularly to anyone who comes into contact with at-risk groups.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141339801

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Sixteen-year-old Zeba Khan wasn't particularly looking forward to the family holiday with her parents in Pakistan. It was eight years since she'd been there and she had only vague memories of the heat, the mosquitoes, her Uncle's home and her cousin Asif, who is eight years older than her. She's just finished her GCSE exams and - along with her best friend Susan - was planning which subjects she would take for A level and university as well as looking at future careers. She's always been happy in her Muslim faith and the lack of boyfriends, alcohol and drugs had never worried her, although she was perhaps a little envious of the fact that Susan could go out in the evenings.

When she arrived at her uncle's home she was told that she was to be married to her cousin. This wasn't a matter of choice. Her father had promised his brother and it was a matter of honour - and honour came before anything and certainly before a daughter's happiness. Zeba was stuck - if it wasn't for the help of her grandmother one might almost say imprisoned - in a rural, almost feudal village five hours away from Karachi. There's another girl in the village in a similar position. Sehar has a strong Birmingham accent, a husband who beats her and she's seven months pregnant as a result of a forced marriage.

The first point to make is that there is a very real difference between an arranged marriage - where the parents find a suitable marriage partner but the bride and groom enter into the marriage willingly - and a forced marriage. Forced marriage is against all religions and is illegal in the UK. The UK government's Forced Marriage Unit receives over seventeen hundred calls each year from girls and women who are at risk and globally ten million girls under the age of eighteen become child brides each year.

This is a brilliant story. I read it in a matter of hours, desperate to find out what happened to Zeba and her friend Sehar. They're great characters - girls placed in a situation no mature woman should have to face - and they react as girls from the west would do when transplanted into an alien culture. They'd been used to being good Muslim girls at home but were completely unprepared for a society which places women at such a low value. The story is balanced - Zeba's grandmother was against the marriage, as was the local imam. The groom-to-be is not a bad man, but he's being manipulated by his parents too. You get a real sense that this is how it could be.

Secrets of the Henna Girl is aimed at the teenage girl but it really should be read by everyone who comes into contact with girls - and, most surprisingly, boys - who might be at risk. Help is available but it is essential that the problem is recognised for what it is and referred to people who can help.

We think you might also appreciate Under The Same Stars by Suzanne Fisher Staples.

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Buy Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Secrets of the Henna Girl by Sufiya Ahmed at


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