Monday, June 20, 2011

Does My Head Look Big In This?

OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming… going off on creative writing tangents based on personal angst. Although, I’m just about to leave India in Eat, Pray, Love….and well, that’s just a whole discussion and then some I’d love to have with someone right there! I really should join a book club one of these days.

Does My Head Look Big In This? Is a wonderful Young Adult novel by Randa Abdel-Fateh. This is the first book that I can remember reading where the heroine is a young Muslim woman. As a middle school teacher-librarian this is important to me….and I hope important to more young women of all backgrounds because we don’t often get to see female Muslim heroines unless they are depicted in extreme circumstances.

Amal is a feisty, smart, argumentative, ambitious young girl who at the age of seventeen decides to take her faith seriously by wearing a hijab, Muslim female head covering, in her average teenage life in Melbourne, Australia. Although she knows that she will face some questionable looks, negative remarks, sterotyping and possibly racism, it’s important to Amal to be authentic in her identity as a Muslim, Palestinian-Australian girl. Amal makes many discoveries in her new life under the veil….some of them she expected….many of them surprises. By the end of the novel, readers are satisfied that Amal has grown as a person and as a Muslim through her experience...."all this time I've been walking around thinking of become pious because I've made the difficult decision to wear the hijab......But what's the good of being true to your religion on the outside, if you don't change what's on the inside, where it really counts." (333)

What I especially enjoyed in this story is that by seeing the world through Amal’s eyes, under her hijab, are the many layers of being Muslim and of Middle Eastern descent. As our heroine struggles with her new visibility, she becomes sometimes a willing and many times an unwilling representative of her religion and culture to her peers. It’s a lot to go through when also dealing with boy crushes, make-up, keeping up with Cosmo, sleepovers, pimples and studying for tests at school! Amal teaches us that Islam has many aspects and that its doctrines are not what we think we know from our media. She also learns much about what it means to be Australian when viewed by so many of her compatriots as an outsider.

Throughout her typical, busy Junior Year, Amal, carefully thinks about how wearing hijab might or might not be part of the experience. We learn that being a teenage Muslim girl is a lot like being a teenage girl of any religious background….and that’s cool.

Does My Head Look Big In This? is Abdel-Fattah’s first book. It’s won several awards including: Australian Book of the Year Award 2006, Notable Book of the Children’s Book Council 2006, on the long list of books considered for the UK Galaxy Book Awards 2006 and on the short list of books considered for the UK Grampian Children’s Book Awards 2006. This author has written several more books about identity issues for Muslims and specifically Palestinians. More about Abdel-Fattah can be learned at her very informative website:

Abdel-Fattah, R. Does My Head Look Big In This? New York: Orchard Books, 2005. Print.

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