“How can I be three identities in one? It doesn’t work. They’re always at war with one another. If I want to go clubbing, the Muslim in me says it’s wrong and the Lebanese in me panics about bumping into somebody who knows somebody who knows my dad. If I want to go to a Lebanese wedding as the four hundredth guest, the Aussie in me will laugh and wonder why we’re not having civilized cocktails in a function room that seats a maximum of fifty people. If I want to fast during Ramadan, the Aussie in me will think I’m a masochist.
I can’t win.”
Jamilah lives a double life: at home, she’s Jamilah, the girl who plays an instrument in an Arabic band and tries to convince her super-strict father to lighten up once in a while. However, at school, she’s Jamie, with bleached hair, contacts, and endless excuses for why she can never socialize after school. She just doesn’t want people to see her as a stereotype; she’s afraid they’ll hear Muslim and think extremist. However, the strain of constantly hiding who she truly is wears on her, and her friends are wondering why she’s never around. She can’t keep it up much longer-but what will happen if everyone knows the truth about her?
This is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second novel about Muslim teenagers struggling to find a place within a larger culture that doesn’t always understand or welcome them. Her characters are complex, from the hijab-wearing activist Shereen, to a father struggling with the task of raising three children alone-he doesn’t want to create strife between him and his children, but he also feels compelled to raise them in line with his core values. While Jamilah often feels like an outsider because of her cultural identity, she gets great joy out of sharing meals, playing traditional instruments, and speaking Arabic.
Abdel-Fattah takes pains to differentiate between ethnicity, culture, and religion, and explore the different ways they can be expressed in her characters. It may not always be easy to have a hyphenated identity, but Randa Abdel-Fattah opens an important dialog about faith, fear, and the self in her thoughtful, timely novels.
Author’s website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. Orchard Books: New York, 2006. 297 pp. Ages 15 and up.