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Book Club Visits Henna Cupcakes

Is your book club planning to read Painted Hands? Jennifer would love to join you via speaker phone or Skype. (In person visits are also possible if Jennifer will be in your area. For example, she is frequently visits Boston and DC.)

To inquire about such a visit, please send an email to with the location, number of people in the group, and possible dates. Jennifer will respond as soon as possible to schedule the visit.

Discussion Guide Questions for Painted Hands

1) Painted Hands is a novel about contemporary Muslim women in America. What preconceptions about Muslim women did you have before you read the book? How did the novel reinforce or challenge those assumptions?

2) At the beginning of the book, Amra and Zainab’s friend Rukan announces her engagement to a non-Muslim man. Were you surprised at how controversial this decision was with her parents? Have you or anyone you know married someone from a different faith? If so, were there any issues?

3) In a traditional arranged marriage, often the bride and groom have spent very little time together and are chosen for each other by relatives. Amra’s marriage is a much more modern take on this concept. Single people in America often lament how difficult it is to “meet someone” after college or graduate school. Do you see any benefits to a traditional arranged marriage? What about Amra’s more modern version?

4) Throughout the novel, Amra struggles to balance her husband and her demanding career. Could she have handled things better? What about Mateen? Do you think their problems were similar to or different from those faced by other married couples?

5) The importance of the mother-daughter relationship figures prominently in the book. Discuss the role Amra’s mother plays in her life, and how the absence of a mother affects Zainab.

6) At times in the book, Chase engages in anti-Muslim bigotry. If you were Zainab, could you have dated or fallen in love with him? Discuss whether he sufficiently redeems himself by the end of the novel.

7) Hayden struggles with body image issues in the book and spends a lot of effort trying to live up to western standards of beauty, including being thin. Traditional Muslim women are expected to cover most of their bodies and sometimes their hair. Do you think one standard is more oppressive for women?

8) Chase and Taj Fareed debate the issue of forced registration for Muslims in America. Who had the better argument? Are there any parallels to the Japanese Internment or the Civil Rights struggles of African Americans in this country?

9) Do you see any significance to the story’s Boston setting? What about the visit Zainab and Taj make to the witch museum in Salem? How do the themes of religious persecution and guilt by association figure into the novel?

10) After the terrorist attempt on Fenway Park, Zainab is forced to decide whether to issue a public condemnation. Do you agree with her decision? Do you think Muslims need to speak out more about violence committed by other Muslims? Should members of other faiths or groups do the same?

11) Zainab and Chase both had traumatic childhoods. Discuss how their shared loss of a parent helped or hindered their relationship.

12) Discuss the choices Hayden makes in the novel. In what ways is she a sympathetic character?  Did you gain or lose respect for her by the end of the story? What do you think the future holds for her?

13) What do you think happens between Zainab and Chase after the book ends? What about Amra and Mateen? Which couple do you think has the best chance of being together in five or ten years?

A Helpful Glossary of Terms

Suggested Book Club Treats

Samosa, pakora, papadum
Mango lassi
Henna-themed cupcakes like the gorgeous ones in the photos by Fancy Cakes by Rachel and Manni at I Bake Cakes.

Can you imagine anything better?

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