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Skunk Girl

Skunk Girl Cover

 

 

Excerpt

The Keera in My Brain
Im a giant in the sky flying over crimson-roofed houses, dressed in

a wool turtleneck and jeans. Its hot and Ive started to perspire, a

fine drizzle of sweat that falls onto the village below. Thats when I

see a group of elves walking single file. Theyre carrying hot fudge

sundaes, lots of whipped cream and no cherry, just the way I like

them. As Im about to swoop down and attempt to steal a sundae,

someone grabs my shoulder. Its a ghost, and it knows my name.

“Nina.”
“Nina.” The ghost is still gripping my shoulder. My mother. Her

hair is tied tightly back and nearly every inch of her face is covered in

white cream bleach.

“Wake up, beta,” she says. Her fingers smell like onion and chili

powder; shes already made breakfast. She always likes me to start the

school year off on a full stomach. “Its your first day of school!”

She says this as though I should be excited. Though it is indeed

the first day of my junior year of high school, none of the feelings

swilling around in my head bear any relation to excitement. In fact,

theyre pretty much the opposite of excitement. After spending much

of the summer reading the two SAT prep books my parents had

bought me, its easy to come up with possible antonyms. Unenthused.

Disinterested. Reluctant.

My mother shakes her head. “Sonia was always so excited to start

a new year of school, but you never want to get out of bed.”

I sit up. “Im awake now, Ma. Happy?”

“I made you an omelet,” she says. “Hurry up before it gets cold.”

And so I rise, and so begins another year. Another year of social

exile, another year of not fitting in, another year of not measuring up

to the legacy left by my sister, Sonia, another year of wishing I were

someone else, someplace else. Who on earth would be excited about

that?

My fathers in the kitchen and extends his arms out wide as soon

as he sees me. I brace myself. Hes a small man, but bearlike in his

affections, often testing the capacity of my lungs to withstand intense

pressure in the form of zealous embraces, though as Ive become

older, the duration of these embraces has lessened. “Nina!” he booms

cheerily, squeezing me for a second before letting go. Its a rare

moment when my father isnt in a merry mood. If we were white and

Christian, hed be one of those dads who dress up as Santa Claus

every Christmas. “Ready to ace calculus?”

“Im not taking calculus till next year, Dad,” I tell him. His forehead

furrows. Sonia, of course, started calculus in her junior year,

which is probably why he looks so confused.

“Dont worry, you will be soon!” he says, as if calculus were some

major milestone every teenager aspires to achieve.

My father has no surgeries scheduled at the hospital this morning,

so after we eat my mothers omelets he offers to drive me to school,

which is fine with me since I dont have my license yet and its embar-

rassing to be seen stepping out of a yellow school bus when youre a

junior in high school.

As soon as we get in the car my father puts on his favorite kind of

music, qawwali, Sufi mystical music. Sometimes, when he gets really

into it, he sings along and does this gesture with his right hand, like

hes unscrewing a lightbulb. But today he stays still. Its a little too

early in the morning for musical theatrics, even for my father.

We drive past rows of houses with small yards and swing sets and

the occasional inflatable pool, and stop at the light in front of the old

roller rink, which was shut down a few years ago and has been abandoned

ever since, weeds and shattered glass blanketing the steps to

the entrance. Back in 1986, when I was in fourth grade, this roller rink

was the epicenter of the social scene. I used to hate having wheels on

my feet. When I did go roller-skating Id hold on to the wall that bordered

the rink as the other kids raced by me, skating hand in hand, or

backward, or both. Mostly when I went I sat around with my friends

Bridget and Helena, and sucked on red and green ice pops, the kind

wrapped in plastic that you squeezed from the bottom up.

We take a left and then a right onto Main Street. The words “Welcome

to Deer Hook” are painted across the brick wall of a store, also

abandoned, which is next to another abandoned store, which is next

to the offtrack betting parlor, where already there are a few old men in

stained clothing loitering outside, the necks of liquor bottles sticking

out from the paper bags in their hands. Deer Hooks Main Street has

a bad half and a better half, divided by the main intersection, the only

intersection on Main Street that has a traffic light.We cross the light

into the better half and I can tell you the order of what we pass without

looking: the movie theater, the Italian restaurant La Traviata, the

Ming Dynasty Chinese takeout place, the pizzeria, the taxidermist

shop with the stuffed moose head in the window. Ive spent my whole

life in this town and nothing here has really changed, except for some

businesses shutting down and never reopening, like the roller rink. In

this town, things arent reborn or reinvented. Everything that doesnt

stay the same either dies or goes away.

For as long as I can remember Ive pretty much hated Deer Hook,

population 11,250. When I was in middle school, I had a game that I

liked to play. I would close my eyes and touch a globe ever so lightly

with my finger. Then Id spin it with my other hand. Wherever my

finger landed when the globe stopped spinning was where I was

going to end up living, and I would yell out the name of my future

home. “Australia! Egypt!” If it landed on someplace like Kansas or an

ocean, I cheated and spun it again. “Brazil!”

One day, my father walked in as I landed on New Zealand. “New

Zealand!” I shouted.

“What are you doing?” he asked. I explained. My father raised his

bushy eyebrows. “You have a keera in your brain,” he told me. Keera

is the Urdu word for “insect.” What my father meant was that I had

something in my brain that was giving me strange ideas, like wanting

to live halfway across the globe. This was a bit hypocritical, considering

he had moved halfway across the globe, but I didnt mention this,

because he would have said, “Thats different.” Instead I imagined

the keera in my brain. He was a friendly-looking insect, like a cricket,

with big, powerful green eyes that could see the world beyond Deer

Hook, beyond Albany and New York City, all the way to New

Zealand.

My father pulls into the circular driveway in front of Deer Hook

High, a U-shaped one-story building with a statue of Henry Hudson

in front of the entrance. Theres a ton of people milling around, talking

and laughing, most of them familiar. Huddled together by the

statue is a group of nervous freshmen. “Have fun!” my father says.

My fingers tighten around the door handle. Once I exit this car,

theres no going back. Its not that I hate high school, its just that I

wish it would hurry up and end already. But I suppose to understand

this, you have to understand the story of my life thus far. The dread

Im now feeling is a culmination of years of dealing with things that

end in “shun,” at least phonetically: repression, suppression, exclusion.

My name is Nina Khan, and growing up, there were two things

that especially plagued me. The first was my sister.

 
Excerpted from Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim
Copyright © 2009 by Sheba Karim.
Published in April 2009 by Farrar Straus Giroux
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374370114
Publisher:
Farrar Straus Giroux
Subject:
Situations / Adolescence
Author:
Karim, Sheba
Subject:
Family life
Subject:
High schools
Subject:
Social Issues - Adolescence
Subject:
School & Education
Subject:
Love & Romance
Subject:
Ethnic - Asian American
Subject:
Family life - New York (State)
Subject:
New york (state)
Subject:
Family/General (see also headings under Social Issues)
Subject:
Love
Subject:
Romance
Subject:
School
Subject:
Education
Subject:
General
Subject:
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction-Adolescence
Subject:
Children s Young Adult-Social Issue Fiction
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20090331
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 9 up to 13
Language:
English
Pages:
240
Dimensions:
8.63 x 5.76 x 1.065 in
Age Level:
12-UP

Related Subjects

Children's » General
Young Adult » Fiction » Social Issues » Adolescence
Young Adult » General

Skunk Girl
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$ In Stock
Product details 240 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374370114 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In this wryly funny debut novel, the smart, sassy, and utterly lovable Nina Khan tackles friends, family, and love, and learns that it's possible to embrace two very different cultures--even if things can get a little bit, well, "hairy."
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