Monday, August 27, 2007

Does My Head Look Big In This?


Abdel-Fattah, Randa. 2007. Does My Head Look Big In This?

I have mixed feelings about Does My Head Look Big In This? My enthusiasm for the novel was not particularly consistent. (I liked the first third, I really liked the middle third, and I loved the last third.)

Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim is both your typical and untypical teen. As a Australian-Muslim-Palestinian, she feels she got "whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens" (5). To question one's identity is fairly typical--very standard--in YA literature. To deal with questions of race, prejudice, and faith is again fairly typical. But in most cases the race and faith in question is not Muslim (and Middle-Eastern). Hence why she is both typical and untypical. This makes the book good, but at times difficult to evaluate. Amal is a character that at the same time wants to be like everybody else, but she wants to be seen as special, unique, and one-of-a-kind. She wants to not stick-out in a crowd as being 'the Muslim' yet she is very proud of her culture, her religion, her faith. She wants to have it all. She doesn't want people to point, stare, and laugh. But she wants to be noticed. She wants to stand out. Again, I think that all teens--all people--go through a stage where they feel that the whole world is looking at them, staring at them, evaluating them, critiquing them, judging them, laughing at them, etc. I think every teen has the feeling that everyone is noticing them--watching for all the little flaws, waiting for them to make a mistake, etc. This sense of heightened awareness and the feeling that everything they do is more important that what it actually is. It is like going through life--your whole day, your whole week--like every moment could potentially be your most embarrassing moment ever. [Does that make any sense at all? What I'm trying to say is that they might be *imagining* the world is laughing at and judging them when really...no one is really paying that much attention.]

Amal is ready to wear the hijab. Inspired by an episode of Friends, where Rachel braves the crowd to perform Copa Cabana after an embarrassing walk down the aisle, Amal has made her decision. Her first day of school--in what is essentially her junior year in high school--will be the first day she'll wear the hijab (and be covered) in front of her classmates at McCleans Preparatory School. What the book does not mention until halfway through--and what really makes a difference in appreciating the novel--is that this school year is 2002. It has only been a year since the 9/11 attacks in America. (That anniversary is covered in the novel.) So this is when tension--global tension--is at an all-time high. This attack is still fresh, the wounds still on the surface. There has been no healing. So prejudice is in many ways more out in the open than one would naturally expect.

Amal doesn't know quite what to expect from her classmates--boys and girls--she doesn't know if she'll be teased, laughed at, ridiculed, called-names, etc. For the most part, her close circle of friends accept her. They're proud of her. Embrace her with open arms. It takes the rest of the class a few more days--to get used to this new image--before they're minds are made up one way or the other. But let's just say her circle of friends expands through the year, it is not that they're not kids who give her a hard time--there is the typical bully who likes to slander and ridicule and mock all the lowly students she deems unworthy--but she finds a great support system.

But this book is about more than being a Muslim. It is about being a teen. It is about being not quite grown-up and having growing pains. Of wanting more freedom than parents are willing to allow. It is about friendships. Amal hangs out with her friends. All the time. Friends are what her world revolves around at times. And the book does a great job in fleshing out these characters and their families.

So the issues faced are in many, many ways that of a typical teen. She is a teen with problems and issues that most kids can relate to and understand. But she is unique too. It's all a balancing act between being 'just like everyone else--especially your friends' and 'being yourself.' Which again I think is fairly normal stuff. At times Amal seems mature, and at other times immature. Sometimes she seems wise, sometimes she seems foolish.

Anyway, what annoyed me at times was Amal's behavior. At times she was disrespectful to her parents and to authority figures in general. And the same things that annoy me about other teen heroines--such as Georgia Nicolson--annoy me about Amal. She can be at times a bit whiny in spots. She can be disrespectful and sarcastic in her narration. But overall I do like her. And I did enjoy this book.

19 comments:

Dewey 3:51 PM  

I'd really like to read this. Adding to bookmooch wishlist!

Becky 4:04 PM  

Dewey,

This is a good book. I really enjoyed it. I just wished I had realized that it was set in 2002 in the very beginning! I feel a lot has changed since then.

Becky

Anonymous,  6:35 PM  

I am a Muslim too, and honestly wearing the hijjab is an awesome thing to do. Sometimes it does get annoying in the summer, it gets really very hard. People do
ask me "What's up with that thing on your head" or "Arent you hot in that", but i like answering these questions and I
also love wearing it.

Anonymous,  1:02 AM  

I'd also decided to wear hijab when I start my college this year, and one day I heard my high school librarian talking about this book. I immediately borrowed it from her and I loved it from the beginning to the end. It's so authentic. It also gave me more courage to stay on my decision.

Anonymous,  4:12 AM  

i just read this book and although there is the whole issue of racism and identity, it is somewhat childish- typical 'Tia' and her 'clones' and Amal going for the popular guy etc etc. Also, Amal says that she does not like being judged, yet near the end when she goes debating, she comments that one of the girls looks 'as if she wants to get intimate with a toilet bowl'- hypercritical, don't you think?

Josette 11:03 PM  

I kind of like Amal's sarcasm and the way she stands up for herself at times. After all, Muslim women really had to fight for their rights to be more independent.

Here's my review of this book if you'd like to read it! =)

Anonymous,  12:15 PM  

I agree a little bit with the last part of the review. But, then again, she IS a teenager. And I would find it strange and unusual if she WASN'T a little rude, sarcastic, and whiny.

saher 5:18 PM  

hi i loved the book

Anonymous,  7:05 PM  

I think wearing the hijab is pretty cool.You feel different and protected. When I first started wearing the hijab, everyone was staring at me,but it was alright after I explainded to them.I loved this book.It's amazing how Amal stands up for her self.

Anonymous,  7:54 AM  

I am reading the book and I find it a bit boring but i'm Sill geting in to it

Anonymous,  11:19 AM  

I'm interested in the concept, and I had high hopes for this book. I hoped it would give some more insight into the life of a Muslim teenager, and connect to the young adult age group. I'm a high school English teacher, and I'm reading this book and finding it terrible. Its unrealistic teenage voice harkens back to the self important tone of Dawson's Creek, but without the likeability. The characters so far are very one-dimensional, and the protagonist's distate for the opinions and concerns of her parents and elders in general is obnoxious. I was hoping this book would be great. So far, I think it's trite.

Hayley 12:29 PM  

I read this book for a class assignment about a characters journey. I didn't really see the journey she made from the beginning to the end. It all seemed the same to me, I feel like she never changed, maybe in the middle, but at the end,she seemed back to her old ways.

Anonymous,  7:50 AM  

im a muslim and i wear a hijab too i am proud of wearing it
wearing a hijab is an awesome thing
and when people laugh at me or judge me i just ignore them i started to wear a proper hijab when i was in year four in primary school in england at first i was annoyed with it but then i got used to it an i liked it.

haticesari 1:48 PM  

hi becky
i am muslim, and ihave wear hijab for 8 years.. now i am 22..
i read this book, and after reading i talked with randa abdel fattah..
her ideas is well..
this book is well, too :)

Anonymous,  3:11 AM  

We got to reed this book in Swedish (i live in Sweden) as an assignment. I enjoyed this book, it was very easy to read and a lot of things were relatable. I agree with an earlier comment about the characters being one dimensional, all but the main character do seem a little undeveloped with one dominating personality trait. I am fifteen, and I think that this book is a little too easy and not challenging for me, however I would really reccomend it to earlier ages.
This book really is inspiring and opens up ones mind, allthough the society in Sweden is much more acceptive towards foreign cultures and religions than the society described in the book, and some of the situations do seem a little exxagerated to me. 3 stars out of 5. =D

Siddiqi Meister 6:36 PM  

Read the book and really enjoyed it! I am a Muslim but do not wear the hijab - totally can see myself asking 'does my head look big in this' if I did though:)

Anonymous,  4:22 PM  

i'm in grade nine and i just read this book a couple weeks ago for a very important project in english class. i agree with several of the comments above. i think the book is too easy, and the characters could be more in depth. i also thought the book did over-exagerate in some aspects.i did like he book though, andd i thought it was somewhat insprirational. :)

Anonymous,  10:58 AM  

hi, i ead the book, ad i thought that it was an amazing book, i mean the way that amal stands up for her self, and wat she believes in really makes people wantto stand up and beieve for themselves another book written bi randa Abdel-Fattah is ten thing sI hate about me, which is also a vey ood read about a irl with to identities (a muslim at home, and a normal teenaer at school) i hope you enjy it! :)

Anonymous,  2:33 PM  

I think that racism still occurs.My father is English and my mother is turkish and she wears a headscarf. I mean im not daft i see the different way my teachers treat my father in meetings and the way they treat my mum. And then they ask are you together, and im like why wouldn't they be. I saw this book and I could automatically relate to it. I think that if you're generally a racist person you shouldn't bother to read it and if you do, negatively criticising a surreal character in a book is just plain dumb, a character can be anything and doesn't have to fit anyone's personal analysis of what a character should be.

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