Review of Secrets of athe Henna Girl by Sufita Ahmed
Puffin, March 2012, 9780141339801
Zeba was British and lived in Yorkshire, but her parents are both Pakistani and her relatives lived there. In the summer holidays her parents told her they were going on holiday there... but this was a lie. Instead she found herself engaged for a forced marriage, and her parents become strangers- they only cared about the family honour, not Zeba's feelings. Zeba coped with the help of her friends, Sehar and Farhat, as Sehar was forced into marriage too. She was beaten by her husband and was resisting the relationship unlike women in similar situations, but she was pregnant and leaving Pakistan was impossible. Despite Sehar's encouragement and her own repulsion, Zeba couldn't bring herself to tell Asif (her fiance,) about how she felt, because he was being married to her as he would hopefully leave his job as a soldier to live in England, safe. In other words, she felt that she would be responsible for his death; however, when Sehar dies in labour, Zeba realises Asif would never leave if she married him or not and e-mails the Forced Marriage Unit in Britain. At the last minute they arrive and Zeba returned to England, but she misses her parents- she starts receiving e-mails from her auntie begging her to come home, but she ignores them. At the hostel, Zeba slowly recovers with the support of running, the other teenagers there and counsellors, but not fully. When her parents come, they apologise broken-heartedly to Zeba and she forgives them... but she knows not to take anything for granted again.
I liked reading this because it was interesting to see life in a completely different culture, though it was shocking of the prospect that forced marriage still happened... the intermingling of that and the contrast of modern life was astounding. It was really engrossing and fast-paced, but most of all it made you feel; I felt angry at the unjust situation and the unfairness, then helpless for Zeba and furious at what happened to Sehar. I think it was a really beneficial read, because people know that forced marriage happens and the undeveloped countries, but this makes it become real. I would really recommend it to anyone who doesn't realise how real and serious it all is.
By Abi Pearce