Secret of the Henna Girl – Sufiya Ahmed

Life as Zeba knows it could be over for good . . .

Zeba Khan is like any other sixteen-year-old girl: enjoying herself, waiting for exam results… and dreaming of the day she’ll meet her one true love.

Except her parents have other plans.

In Pakistan for the summer, Zeba’s world is shattered. Her future is threatened by an unthinkable – and forced – duty to protect her father’s honour.

But does she hold the secrets that will help her escape?

Other books by the author:

The Zahra series

Interview with Sufiya Ahmed:

Author Website Link:


Similar books by other authors:

Trash by Andy Mulligan
Someone Else’s Life by Katie Dale
Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari
This is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees
Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Killing Honour by Bali Rai


10 thoughts on “Secret of the Henna Girl – Sufiya Ahmed

  1. i thought this book was a very teenage sort of story. It’s a fabulous story whilst also raising awareness of forced marriages. Before I read this book I had no idea. Also Sehar’s husband beating her highlights the physical and emotional scars that this cruel treatment can make. The names are a little hard to understand but they fit in with the culture beauitfully.I felt really connected with Sehar and was both shocked and devastated when she died during birth. With her death my hatred for her husband grew. I was glad of the ending with Zebar. I predicted that she’d find her own romance and willingly marry him at a later date. Even though that didn’t happen I thought the ending was really cool. I had a particular dislike for Zeba’s mother who seemed to dislike Zeba for her confidence and freedom. I felt as if I knew zeba and was proud when she escaped from the marriage.

    Annie Dabb

  2. I really liked this book although I was really annoyed and frustrated at the way Pakistani women and girls are treated by men who see them as nothing more than property. I felt really sorry for Zeba as she has no idea what her parents have in store for her when for her whole life, she has lived as a normal teenager studying for her exams and hanging out with her best friend. I really couldn’t see why her Father thought honouring his brother was more of a priority than protecting his own daughter.

    The book is really good and if you like any books by Bali Rai then you will love this as the style of writing is very similar.

  3. This book really surprised me because it’s not the kind of book I would have usually picked up. However I loved this book even though I did cry the whole way through. The tears were definitely worth it though. It gave a really interesting insight into another culture. I found myself feeling exactly the same as Zeba and it really made me think. I loved the relationship that Zeba made with Sehar and with Farhat. It was amazing to see how Zeba grew as a person and how she changed people’s views on marriage. I could not put this inspiring book down and was upset when I finished reading it even though I loved the ending.


  4. I didn’t ‘take to this book’ as much as the others in the ‘running’ . I found the plot rather predictable although I liked the development of the ‘stronger’ female characters. The story, however, is beautifully written, in places, offering insights in to a complex and at times cruel and unforgiving culture, but from a sensitive and thoughtful perspective.

  5. Secrets of the Henna Girl is a beautifully written, heart-breaking story. This gripping tale unveils the life of a typical 16 year old, Zeba, waiting for her exam results, when her parents announce a surprise trip to Pakistan. When she realises the reason behind the visit her life is suddenly thrown into havoc. The intriguing story line forces the reader to carry on reading as Zeba’s life slowly unravels. The storyline follows a more realistic path rather than delving into action which I personally would have preferred. The beautifully depicted characters and their contrasting personalities leave you thinking about the book long after you have put it down. The story was not quite what I expected – judging from the cover – however the surprise reeled me in after every page to read more.


  6. I love Henna girl because it still kept me hooked even though it could go for a few chapters without anything really happening. It’s a good book but I would recommend it for Y8+ because of the way the author writes, the violence, the guns and the death of a character we care about. I nearly cried when Sehar dies (she’s one of my favourite characters) but happy when Asif dies (mean, I know but I never liked him). As I read, I felt as if I was Zeeba and I shared all her emotions like cringing at the engagement party. I’ve read this book twice now, once before it was published. I think I was a bit young the first time.
    Abbie Wells, Y8

  7. I really enjoyed this book. It gives a very realistic insight into the world of forced marriage. You experience all the feelings that Zeba, the main character, is feeling: anger, acceptance, hope, dread etc.
    At the beginning you see a normal girl living a normal life but when she gets to Pakistan, it all turns upside down. I could hardly put the book down. It felt like I was transported to Pakistan. Sufiya Ahmed gave the story such a great setting, it was very realistic.
    I found the middle part of the book, where Zeba is denying her place with Asif, droned on quite a bit but I kept on reading because I wanted to find out the answers to the many questions that were raised throughout the book. The death of her friend was unexpected. It really took the book to a whole new level. I could really feel the same emotions of loss and hurt that Zeba was feeling.
    The ending I felt was rushed though it lasted several chapters. After reading the final paragraph, I was left expecting more on the next page. The ending didn’t seem to me to be ‘the ending’ but it did answer all of my questions and bring a sense of relief.

    I would rate this book 9/10. It’s very interesting and probably for older readers because it’s very complicated and there are a large number of characters to remember. The story itself, however, is amazing and Sufiya Ahmed really brings it to life. I’m giving it 9 not 10 because of the middle part which did drone on for a while but the rest is gripping. I will definitely read this book again.
    Gemma Mclean, Y8

  8. Overall I thought this book was quite good and I mostly enjoyed reading it. I liked the plotline as forced marriage isn’t a scenario I am familiar with, and the fact that it is written from Zeba’s point of view makes it very relatable. It was interesting to learn about the Muslim and Pakistani cultures which are central to the book as they are very different to what I am used to, but I felt that sometimes the way that the foreign terms and traditions were explained was a bit too matter-of-fact, assuming that the reader knew nothing, which was slightly off-putting. Also I thought that the ending was a bit of a letdown as I was expecting some dramatic escape across Pakistan, but instead the British authorities just came to rescue Zeba. Although this was probably more realistic, it was quite an anti-climax because it had been building up to her escape for a long time. Apart from this I thought the story was well written and clear, but not really a book I would recommend because it didn’t quite have enough action for my liking!

    Zeba is just like any other teenager, she likes to watch films and spend time with her friends. But what she doesn’t know is that this will all end just to help the family honour.
    Although this particular story is fiction it is still very real for the characters and the reader who learns just what some girls in Zeba’s and her new friend Sehar’s situation go through.
    “Secrets of the Henna Girl” takes you on a journey across the world and you go from laughing to crying in a matter of pages and it really is a rollercoaster of emotion as you follow Zeba’s mental struggle to forgive her parents and the rest of her family. Every last detail is thought about carefully, even the cover holds secrets of its own, with is hidden handcuffs and misleading colours. The title also gives the impression of a completely different story. Throughout the book you are screaming at Zeba in your head to just get out of there but when you finish you realise what a difficult situation she is in and few would have the courage to do what she did.

    Everyone deserves a happy ending. This is one of the most memorable lines of the book, and I found I was intrigued to know if Zeba got one. I think this book is relatable to me in some ways – it’s set in Pakistan, so I can understand Urdu words and relate to famous Pakistani names. Overall I think this book was interesting and joyful, but I found that sometimes I didn’t have the urge to turn over the page. Even so, I enjoyed it thoroughly and would happily read it again.

    I loved this book! It was such an emotional roller-coaster full of good, funny and very bad times. It is full of cultural aspects such as the life of Pakistan. You can learn so many lessons from this book as well as a few Urdu words along the way. I thought there were some very good characters in this book which contrasted greatly from each other so we learned a lot more from this base of ideas. I have to say that I really liked the ending which had a sense of metaphorical meaning. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in different problems and events happening today, around the world.

  9. Great book once you get around the fact that instead of the names of the dad /etc they say Zeba’s daddy/etc I couldn’t put the book down until it was finished. It isnt the kind of book I would normally read however I will definitely read more like this in the future.
    I would rate this
    ****(out of 5)

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