Thursday, June 16, 2016

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Every once in a while I read a book that I have mixed feelings about. Like, super mixed feelings. The most recent one was a YA book called Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah. And it's not that I didn't enjoy it. Actually it was a fairly quick read that did cause me to reflect on some things. But the cliches, oh my word. There weren't any love triangles, thank goodness, but the whole preppy high school mean girl thing was on full display, as well as the hot-guy-falls-for-average-girl-who-hates-her-image. But if you can look beyond that, and the frustratingly cliche views on Christianity, there is a good story here. And also, maybe I just have a hard time fully liking the whole first-person viewpoint.


Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is a sixteen year old Australian girl who deals with the regular pressures of high school, but with the added bonus of being Muslim. It had never been an issue before, but now she's decided that she's reached a point in her faith journey where she is ready to wear the hijab, a head covering, full time. It doesn't help that her parents actually discourage it at first. It also doesn't help that it's less than a year after 9/11 and fear of Islam is running very high. And of course she's only been at her school, a prestigious prep school in Melbourne, for one term. So really, it's probably the worst time to be making the choice, but Amal does it anyway.

Her friends don't turn her away, and one of her teachers is even super accepting of it, making sure she has a private place to pray, as well. Throughout the school year, Amal goes through many situations where it's her first time being out in public with a head covering on, and she has to endure a lot of ridicule, but there are also those strangers who are kind enough to realize she's different from radical Islam. And as Amal grows in her confidence, she helps a few others grow along the way. She befriends her cranky old Greek Orthodox neighbor and gets her to smile for the first time in ages, and she helps her best friend's mother see that marrying her daughter off at sixteen is the absolute wrong choice. By the time the school year draws to a close, Amal has a better understanding of herself and how she relates to the world as a Muslim and as an Australian who has Palestinian blood.


Alright, so I feel like I have to make a disclaimer here that I'm not accepting Islam in the least. I read this book with an open mind, though, and it helped me more to understand that there are differing interpretations within every religion. It's good to know these things, and it's also good to remember that they are people too. And on the surface, this book was a teenage journey of identity, and there's always something worth gleaning there.

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