This book is about 16 year old Amal, a Palestinian-Australian-Muslim girl who wears a hijab during her Year 11 in an Australian high school.
The book gives a first person’s perspective of being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country. The teenage years are tough enough with acne problems, boys, sex, studies and the future WITHOUT the complications of Amal’s different faith.
Reading “Does My Head Look Big in This?, I had a first-person view of what it’s like being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country.
Early on, we are quickly drawn into Amal’s life in an easy-to-read, conversational and witty style.
Starting from the Catholic primary school she attended because an Islamic one was too far from home, she reveals the peer pressure non-Christian students feel attending a missionary school.
A funny incident at Confession shows us the dilemma Amal is in as she struggles between trying to fit in, being Muslim and being polite at the same time!
Personal identity is one of the themes discussed e.g. her touching experience with an anti-Muslim radio programme on the public bus, with the cool crowd in school, while applying for a part-time job and the day the Sept 11 news broke out in Australia.
Her experiences also show the reader the extent of the problems Muslims face in their daily life within the Western world. For example, Amal’s beautiful and beautiful friend, Leila’s daily disputes with her ultra-traditional Muslim mother illustrates the Muslim woman’s struggle for education, career and love within their religion and culture.
Together with another Muslim friend, Yasmeen, Amal tries to keep Leila’s spirits each time she comes up against her mother’s old-fashioned views on education, work and marriage. While the girls laugh over Leila’s mother’s beliefs, they don’t realize how serious her mother is until something drastic happens.
Randa also shows the cultural identity crisis immigrant adults experience even after years of settling down in Australia. Her paternal uncle’s family, Uncle “Joe” (Ismail) and Aunt Mandy (Aysha) go all out to appear as Aussie as possible by accepting non-Halal foods, not fasting during Ramadhan and assuming Western names, speech patterns and lifestyles.
They remind me so much of the The Coopers (Kapoors) and Robinsons (Rabindaraths) who are comic British Indian characters in the BBC comedy Goodness Gracious Me!
On the other hand, Amal’s parents, two professionals, take a realistic stand about being Muslims in modern Australian society and stay true to their culture and their faith. For example, her Mum shows readers that Muslim mothers are like any other mothers i.e. worrying about calories, transfat, BMI and being the best host for guests at her home.
The books also looks at cross-cultural friendships through Amal’s Muslim friends from her hidayah (Muslim school) and her “secular” school friends, Eileen, a Japanese; Simone, a white Aussie and her best friend, a Jew named Josh.
At first, Amal kept two sets of friends: Muslim friends where she restricts discussions on her faith and her non-Muslim friends (school mates) for “secular” topics like boys, school and other teenage issues. Later, she realizes that she didn’t have to segregate her friends that way after all.
The book also introduces Palestinian cuisine when Amal’s Mum prepares a feast of mansaf (rice, chicken with pine nuts) fatoosh and warak areb (vine leaves with spicy rice).
The author aims to write a book that “allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes; to realize that she was experiencing the same dramas and challenges of adolescence as her non-Muslim peers”.
I find that the book explored themes similar to Melina Marchetta’s “Looking for Alibrandi” e.g.:
- peer pressure,
- boys and
- an unusual friendship with an elderly person who reveals her past (Amal’s Greek neighbour, Mrs. Vaselli reminds me strongly of Josie Alibrandi’s Nonna).
While Amal is as intelligent as Josie, I personally don’t find her as strong a character. Many a time, I find that she’s too self-conscious and paranoid despite her clear, logical thinking and quick wit – will she realize this by the end of the book?
What I like best about the book is Amal’s sincerity – thankfully, she doesn’t adopt a martyr-like, holier-than-thou attitude when she puts on the hijab and faces these new challenges…
I would certainly recommend this book to teenagers:
- REVIEW: The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods by Ann Cameron
- REVIEW: Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
- Do Dooni Chaar – Two times two is four
- REVIEW: An Education (starring Carey Mulligan)
- Watching “The Three Idiots”