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

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I think I have purchased this book at least twice before and have never gotten around to reading before loaning it off to someone, that is until we were snowed in a few days ago.  Similarly bizarre, whenever I’ve asked someone who has read it what they thought of it, I’d nearly always get a a smirk, a shrug a nod of the head, and a vague response.  So when the book came in the mail and the snow hit the roads, I decided to put an end to all this none sense.  Needless to say I’m very tempted to make a video of me shrugging, smirking, and shaking my head instead of writing a synopsis, ya, it’s got a lot going on.

According to Accelerated Reader it is a 4.9, so fourth grade ninth month reading level, however, I wouldn’t encourage anyone that young to read it, you would need to be at least a junior or senior in high school for content.  It has 360 pages that fly by and is one of those books that if you put it down you could pick it up a month later and not miss anything, or you could read it in one sitting and not find it to be a daunting task.  I akin it to empty calories, a half hour sitcom, or books like Janet Evanovich’s Plum novels or Sophie Kinsella’s Shopoholic books; entertaining, light, and with a happy ending.

SYNOPSIS:

Australian born Amal Mohamaed Narullag Abdel-Hakim is considering wearing hijab and as she makes the decision, she is forced to handle obstacles in every relationship her sixteen-year-old life contains.  The only child of her Palestinian born parents, her mother is a dentist, her father a doctor, Amal seems to have it all: a few close Muslim friends from her days in an Islamic School, a few close friends at her current prep school, an amazing relationship with her parents, brains, looks, opportunity.  There is really no climax as she navigates all this other than the fact that she is a teenager and doesn’t often know what she wants.  Additionally she is Muslim and as various terrorist plots occur she is challenged with coping at school, deciding if she can achieve her goals and cover her head, if she can have male friends and go to parties, and if she can win over her critical elderly neighbor.  This book honestly has it all: Islam vs. culture, boy girl issues, gender roles, immigrant and assimilation, extremism vs liberal, weight and self esteem issues, Ramadan, cousins and family members who make things difficult, female circumcision, terrorism, drug and alcohol use, smoking, racism and bigotry,  and even at times a poignant moment or two.

But, to cram all that in to a YA book is really just too much that it gets lost and ultimately doesn’t leave a memorable place in the reader’s head or heart.

Never really getting into Amal’s head about why she wants to cover, the book stays superficial with her infatuation with Adam and her poor choices regarding her relationship with him.  A constant struggle she has is wondering if she can ever get a job and be taken serious as a professional while wearing a hijab, which seems really silly since her mom is a successful dentist who covers, but that never even is addressed.  Amal fights with her Principal, fights with classmates and at times even her parents regarding her decision to cover, and while yes you cheer for her, it seems to almost contradict how flighty she is in other capacities of her life.  The other main story line is with Amal’s Muslim friend Leila who’s parents are “cultural” and not very religious and thus oppressive in letting Leila practice Islam.  A worthwhile story line, however it almost makes Amal’s family in contrast seem “too perfect” which after a while just seems unrealistic.  The character fasts and prays and does many of the prescribed aspects of faith, but Amal seems in many regards to lack spirituality or enthusiasm or even a deeper connection for Islam.  She is a character who is Muslim, but not necessarily defined internally by her love of Allah, she just wears it on her head.

WHY I LIKE IT:

Many reviews of the book remark that it is a book that “needed to be written and needs to be read,” and I think yes, if you are an avid reader that is looking for a quick entertaining read about a Muslim, by a Muslim, go for it.  I don’t foresee me using this as a book club selection, but i think in a few years there are some students that I would recommend picking it up and reading it.  To some non-Muslims I think it would show that Muslim’s have the same everyday problems that everyone has, and in fact we are not all extremists.

FLAGS:

There is a little cursing in the book, girl/boy issues of dating, kissing,  mentioning of porn and prostitution, there is alcohol, drug use by a minor character, smoking, and lying to parents as a norm.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/resources/RA-DMHLBITNotes.pdf

A little about the author and why she wrote the book:

http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/index.asp

 

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