Monday, April 13, 2009

Does My Head Look Big In This?

by Randa Abdel-Fattah
I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d want to return to my high school years about as much as I’d want to see the IRS on my caller ID. Those years are tough on all of us, a time for our rapidly growing ideas and minds to catch up with our rapidly growing body parts, a time to figure out who you are. My path through those hormonal years was rarely clear of debris and thorny sticks, and I always watched with a little bit of envy those whose path seemed clearer and more focused than mine.

Amal is one of those people. She’s a typical teenager in her Melbourne prep school. She’s on the debate team, has a close circle of girlfriends, is concerned about her clothes matching and whether she has a zit, and most importantly, if the cutest boy she’s had a crush on for ages is noticing her. But there’s one thing that’s not so typical, she’s a Palestinian-Muslim, the only one in her school and this year she’s decided to wear her head scarf (hijab) fulltime as a statement of her faith.

It’s 2002, a year after the September 11th attacks and a few months away from the Bali explosion in Indonesia. Tensions against Muslims are running high everywhere, in her school, her neighborhood, and in her city. Yet, Amal is a strong young woman who has come to the decision to stand up for what she believes in, despite the obstacles, and in the end they only seem to increase her resolve to stick with what she believes in.

What’s not to like about a story about a young teen who clearly knows what she wants? For someone who knows nothing about the Muslim religion, I found what was discussed here a light taste of something infinite. The author was clearly trying to explain to non-Muslims that Muslims are just like everybody else through Amal’s interactions with her parents, her extended family and her friends, but I might’ve liked seeing a deeper look, like why Muslim women wear the hijab in the first place. Not all Muslims are terrorists, I get it. The majority of them are peace loving people trying to do the best for their families. This was probably the main point of the book, over and over and over again.

Therein lies my problem with this story. Think peachy with an r conveniently situated. The plot was so well calculated it didn’t flow naturally for me. It didn’t seem realistic at all, from her relationship to her parents, to her experiences with prejudice, and especially her discussions with her friends. In college maybe, but 11th grade? Really? What planet is she from? Maturatron. (I wonder if they wore leg-warmers there too?) Oh, why couldn’t I have been from there as a teen!

Kudos to you, Ms. Abdel-Fattah, for creating a strong female lead for other teens to look up to, but next time ease up a bit on the moral lessons as it sometimes makes a teen, er…an adult like me rebel and give you a 2.5 stars. Sorry.

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