Friday 24 May 2013

#CBR5 Book 53. "Does My Head Look Big in This?" by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Page count: 360 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Amal is sixteen, and about to start her second year as the only Muslim at a posh private high school, when she has an epiphany while watching Friends.She decides to start wearing the hibab full time, fully aware that this will attract all sorts of attention, and that it may be the most popular of decisions. Her parents, worried that it will give her too much negative attention, try to make her change her mind, but the more she thinks about it, the more resolved she is. Of course, when she shows up in school, the principal and a lot of the teachers think she's been coerced into it by her parents, or religious leaders, and she has to be very firm about the fact that it's her own choice, her own decision, and that they can't prohibit her from her personal expression of her faith, no matter what the school regulations about uniforms state.

Most of her friends, while a bit puzzled at first, are extremely supportive. Only the mean girl clique try to bully her about it, but as Amal points out to herself and her friends, now they have something specific to tease her about. Amal is more concerned about the opinions of Adam, her lab partner, and one of the cutest and most popular boys in school. She has a massive crush on him, and would hate for him to see her as some sort of religious fanatic just because she chooses to wear a head scarf.

While it may seem as if this book is all about heavy issues like religion and personal choice, it's mostly a very light and frothy young adult book about being a teenager. Through Amal's first person narration we get insight into her life, which is full of text messages, internet chats, shopping, girl talk, swooning over boys and conflicts with parents. Amal's parents are a doctor and dentist, respectively, highly educated with very progressive views. They're concerned Amal will be limiting her choices and opportunities by choosing to wear the hijab at such a young age, but they're also supportive of her decisions.

As a contrasting view of Muslim traditions, there is Amal's good friend Leila, whose parents are still living their lives dictated by old village traditions from the small place they're from in Turkey. Leila's brother is allowed to run wild and do whatever he pleases, while they expect Leila to do all the housework and get married, rather than go to university to become a lawyer and fulfill her dreams. Amal is deeply critical of this, and only after Leila does some very drastic things, does she come to realize that she may have been a bit narrow minded and judgemental herself.

In some ways, this book is like a young adult chick lit. Amal is a girly girl, and despite her choice to wear the hijab, and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life (like most teenagers), she lives a fairly typical life, without any big conflicts. I'm glad her choices weren't made into major issues, but at the same time, it feels as if the author had a chance to explore some serious topics, in an easy to relate to way, and squandered this opportunity a bit.

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