Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

tenthingsihateaboutme“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.

Happy Reading!

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.

Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif

“Sometimes I feel that I don’t fit in.  Years ago, during a sleepover at a friend’s house, some girl I barely knew asked questions about my ethnicity.  I was wearing pink nail polish and she asked me, ‘Your parents allow you to wear nail polish?’ As if Muslim girls can’t wear something harmless like nail polish.  Those ignorant comments come only once in a while, because my real friends know that I do fit in.  People who know very little about me think my mom will come to school wearing a veil or sari, and they’re wowed by how hot she is (the only time her hotness makes me look good). Or they think Dad will have a long terrorist beard and bland clothes, but he always comes to school in a suit, looking all suave and charming.  I don’t mind if my classmates see my parents, but it’s best that they don’t.  Like most people my age, I pretend that my home life and my school life are on different planes of existence.”

During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, believers are not supposed to eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.  For the first time ever, fifteen-year-old Almira is fasting with her family, and it’s hard work!  Combined with learning to drive, her first crush, getting braces, and some drama with the new girl, Almira has her hands full.  How can she get Peter to notice her at school? How can she get her grandfather to understand that she’s just a normal American teenage girl, and not trying to be disrespectful or rebellious?  And why is the new girl so mean?

I have a special interest in books featuring minorities for young adults, and was so pleased to see a book about a Muslim teen on the shelves at my library, especially one that focuses on issues beyond cultural differences (for example, Almira’s crush, an understandable preoccupation for a teen, is a main plot element). While there is some discussion of religious beliefs, Almira’s family is portrayed neither as exactly like everyone else in the novel, nor as religious extremists with an oppressive belief system.  In short, they’re normal, and there’s no need to dwell on it for pages.  Young lovers of chick-lit will be delighted with Almira’s authentic voice and her interactions with her friends, as well as the teenage traumas of braces and driving lessons, while I, for one, am thrilled to see representations of the Muslim teen in the YA lit world.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.medeiasharif.com

Sharif, Medeia.  Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. Flux Books: Woodbury, MN, 2011. 298 pp.  Ages 13-16.

If you’d like to read more like this, Does My Head Look Big in This? is a good place to start!