“The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: ‘What is your confession, my child?’
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor…
The Priest asked me again: ‘What is your confession, my child?’
‘I’m Muslim.” I whispered.”
Seventeen-year-old Amal considers herself to be a bunch of hyphens: an Australian-Palestinian-Muslim teenager. She goes to a fancy private school, lives with her parents, is totally devoted to her friends, and fostering a massive crush on her classmate Adam. She’s also decided to begin wearing the hijab all the time, as an expression of her faith. She doesn’t decide because her parents make her, or because she believes that all women should be covered up. In fact, her parents are concerned about how others will receive her decision-they don’t want her to experience any prejudice, or for her career or educational choices to be limited in any way because she covers her hair.
There’s so much to consider. What will her classmates say? Will people stare? Will they think bad things about her? Also: Adam. How will he react to her decision? And it’s not like that’s the only thing she has going on in her life, either: her friend Leila is having trouble at home, and her grouchy neighbor is bumming her out every time she leaves the house. This is high school, Amal-style.
So, this awesome book is part of a project I’m working on, where I’m looking at how Muslim teens are represented in young adult literature. What I loved about the story was how Randa Abdel-Fattah gives us, on the one hand, a hilarious, light read about a quirky and engaging teenager, but on the other hand, some serious commentary on prejudice, assimilation, family, and feminism. Amal gets frustrated with the assumptions people make about her, and sometimes wants everyone to stop talking to her about religion. And you know what? It was so hard for her not to kiss Adam-that’s just not something that fits with her religious beliefs.
Through different characters in the text, we are able to explore aspects of Islam and the ideas people have about Muslims. Randa Abdel-Fattah really shines when she tells us about about Amal’s friend, Leila, and Leila’s mother. Leila’s mother came from a small village in Turkey, and wants different things for her daughter than Leila wants for herself. Rather than writing off Leila’s mother as a backwards, conservative parent who is more concerned with religion than her daughter’s well-being, Abdel-Fattah tells us the story of a mother loving her daughter in the only way she knows how. And that’s just one excellent part of this story: woven throughout is commentary on family, immigration, and diverse expressions of faith. It’s funny, too, and never once preachy. You’ll love it, and you’ll learn from it, too. I can’t wait to read her next book, Ten Things I Hate About Me.
Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/index.asp
Here’s a really great interview with the author, in which she explains her choice of subject matter: “It became apparent to me that the only time Muslim females appeared as heroines in books were as escapees of the Taliban, victims of an honour killing, or subjects of the Saudi royalty! I wrote Does My Head Look Big In This? because I wanted to fill that gap. I wanted to write a book which debunked the common misconceptions about Muslims and which allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes- to realise that she was experiencing the same dramas and challenges of adolescence as her non-Muslim peers- and have a giggle in the process!”
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? Orchard Books: New York, 2005. 359 pp. Ages 15 and up.
Here’s what else is on my reading list for my Super-Special Muslim-Lit Project: Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.,Where I Belong, Boy vs. Girl, and A Map of Home. And if you come across any others, please send them my way!