Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Summary (from Booklist): Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian "whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens." At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is "not hygienic"). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. . . .Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen's conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere.

My thoughts: I agree that this goes beyond the usual second-generation immigrant story, which was good. I liked that Amal was such a typical teenager and that her strong faith was just one part of her life. I think it's really important for people, especially kids and teens, to be able to read about themselves, and despite some strides, there's really not much contemporary fiction for "ethnic" teens of any stripe. Indian and Latina girls are starting to appear, but this was the first book I've seen about a Western Muslim girl just trying to be a teenager.

While it wasn't preachy, I did think it tried really hard to cover all of the stereotypes about Muslims (and in some ways immigrants in general) - there's Amal's friend Leila whose Turkish mother is basically the Muslim equivalent of a hillbilly - all she knows to do is to try to keep Leila away from bad influences and get her married as soon as possible. Amal's aunt and uncle have given themselves and their children English names, wear Western dress and dye their hair, and try, to a rather painful degree, to be ultra-Australian. There's also an elderly Greek neighbour who represents the whole "old country" stereotype. But stereotypes usually become stereotypes because they have some truth and overall the supporting characters were well done, if a few were a bit over the top.

One thing that was interesting is that several people assume Amal's parents are forcing her to wear the veil, which I admit I've thought a few times when I've seen teen girls wearing it. So I obviously needed to be reminded that teens are capable of having their own strong religious beliefs (whatever the religion). I also thought that Amal's obsession with getting her hair right underneath it and selecting the right colour scarf to go with her outfit was a great illustration of being devout while still being a teenager like any other girl.


alisonwonderland said...

i'm going to add this one to my to-read list. thanks for the great review!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Thanks for reading it! It wasn't my fave YA book of the year, but I think it's definitely worth a read.