Monday, March 2, 2009

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

Summary: Amal, an Australian-Palestinian girl, decides to begin wearing the hijab (head covering) to her private school in Australia at the beginning of her spring semester her junior year. She and her range of friends (from Leila, whose ultra-conservative Muslim mother only wants her to get married, to Simone, who's convinced she's too fat to be loved) struggle finding their identities and coping with high school.

Musings: This book was also proposed as a potential summer reading book for 9th graders. The subject matter is really interesting and unique. I know little about the choice to wear the hijab, and this book takes a point of view that is probably rarely heard--a teenage girl's personal choice to wear the covering, even when her parents are nervous about the decision. There are several girls at my high school that wear head coverings, so I thought at first that Amal might be overreacting to her decision, but I soon realized that was not the case. First, I've never worn the covering myself, so I have no idea of what other people might face wearing it. Secondly, I remember reading newspaper articles about schools (in France, I believe), outlawing the wearing of the hijab, which brought the issue into a realistic light. The hijab is often seen as a sign of women's oppression, and Abdel-Fattah sets out to portray how and why the hijab can instead be a sign of women's strength and independent choice.

I had an easier time accepting Amal's decision to wear the hijab than I did her decision to forgo any sort of dating until marriage. Certainly this is not my world view, and I clearly remember railing against parents who tried to prohibit dating in their children. I realize, of course, this is another prejudice of mine--that a young person who doesn't date must be under the overbearing hand of a parent.

I found the topic of the book very interesting and thought Amal's decisions in many ways challenged my own views of teenagers and growing up. However, these important decisions are approached through excessive teenager cliches. Amal and Simone, two girls who in real high schools would probably deal with the very real problem of not finding nice guys interested in them, are both adored by the generic super-nice-popular-cute boys Adam and Josh. When Amal rejects Adam because she does not believe in dating, he is angry for a minute, but they quickly become friends again. Leila's overprotective mother eases up and allows more freedom for her daughter. Amal wins the big debate championship. The girls twitter over boys like they were 11, not 16.

The happy endings were tiresome and gave this very real issue a lack of believability. I don't know if the book would appeal more to actual teenagers, but I didn't enjoy reading it.

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