Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah, 2005.
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction. Drama-comedy. Racism.
Other Details: Paperback. 351 pages.
The narrator of this YA novel is Amal, a sixteen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl living with her parents in Melbourne and about to enter her third term at a posh school. In the opening she has a flash of realisation while watching the episode of Friends in which Rachel gets up on stage and sings “Copacabana” at Barry’s wedding and decides that she’s now ready to wear the hijab full-time. She has been thinking about this for a while and given that post 9/11 there are a lot of mixed feelings about Muslims all around the world it is a big decision. Yet now she has found the courage to be open about her beliefs and deal with the inevitable prejudices that she will face both at school and out and about.
The bulk of the novel is made of Amal's interactions with her friends and school mates, parents and others. It is a pleasant enough story with all the usual elements you'd expect from a teen drama-comedy; though it stands out by also tackling issues of racism and prejudice and providing information about Muslim religious practices in a very accessible way.
Again this was a reading group choice and was generally well-received though we all agreed its style was more aimed at teens rather than a crossover. The Sunday Times is quoted on the cover saying: ‘A smart, lively and contemporary story that manages to blast through prejudices without feeling ponderous or worthy. Every teenager in Britain should read it.’ Finishing it I certainly would agree; aside from a fun read, it is an excellent vehicle for opening discussion about cultural and religious differences. It was awarded the 2006 Australian Book of the Year for Older Children and also been nominated for various other awards.
On a side note, I think the original Australian cover art showing a smiling Amal with her friends in the background gives a more accurate idea of the novel's flavour.
Randa Abdel-Fattah's Page for the book - with link to extract.