________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 7 . . . . November 23, 2007


Does My Head Look Big in This?

Randa Abdel-Fattah.
New York, NY: Orchard Books (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2007.           
360 pp., cloth, $20.99.           
ISBN 978-0-439-91947-0.

Subject Headings:
Hijab(Islamic clothing)-Fiction.
High schools-Fiction.
Islam-Customs and practices-Fiction.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Jen Waters.

*** /4


I'm an Australian-Muslim-Palestinian. That means I was born an Aussie and whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens. I'm in eleventh grade and in four days' time I'll be entering the first day of my third term at McCleans. My Jennifer Aniston experience couldn't have come at a worse time. I mean, it's hard enough being an Arab Muslim at a new school with your hair tumbling down your shoulders. Shawling up is just plain psychotic.


Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim lives with her family in Camberwell, an affluent suburb in Melbourne, Australia. After having an epiphany while watching Friends, Amal decides to go "full-time" wearing her hijab at her prep school, much to the surprise of her parents, teachers and friends. She composes a "To Wear or Not to Wear" list and stresses at great length over it, but ultimately Amal decides she should jump right into as the new semester begins at her prep school. Of course, her decision is not without its drawbacks; not only do the mean girls and jocks mock her, Amal also encounters resistance with the principal who thinks she is purposefully altering the school uniform and not merely expressing her religious beliefs. But luckily Amal has the support of her friends, a teacher/counsellor and a cute boy named Adam.

     With Does My Head Look Big In This, Abel-Fattah has not only taken the typical chick lit genre to a new level, but she also filled it with a number of uniquely drawn characters, such as Amal's aunt and uncle who have militantly assimilated into Australian culture with their gift shop-looking living room and the polar opposite aunt and uncle who are bound and determined to arrange their daughter's marriage. And most memorable is the Greek neighbour; Amal befriends the prickly woman and slowly learns of her sad life story. But for the teen girls who will surely enjoy this book, there are a good many annoying snobs, smart-yet-sensitive boys, and girls with the body and identity issues thrown in to round out the group. Abdel-Fattah has effectively managed to create a book that, like in the style of the short-lived television show My So-Called Life, would appeal both to teens and their parents (although with the pretty shiny polka dots on the cover, I predict that mainly teens will be attracted to it).

     As the novel is set in 2002, Amal must endure both open and close-minded classmates asking her about the terrorists of September 11 that they've seen on television. The attacks on a nightclub in Bali also bring automatic comments and whispers about evil Palestinians, and make Amal question her own faith as well. By wearing the hijab, Amal discovers much about her own identity. She also realizes that it is the immigrants in her life who have inspired her to understand what it means to be an Aussie:

It's been the "darkies", the "towel heads", the "foreigners", the "persons of Middle Eastern appearance", the Asians, the "oppressed" women, the Greek Orthodox pensioner chain-smokers, the "salami eaters", the "ethnics", the narrow-minded and the educated, the total wannabees, the principal with hairy ears who showed me that I am a colourful adjective. It's their stories and confrontations and pains and joys which have empowered me to know myself, challenged me to embrace my identity as a young Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl.


Jen Waters is the Teen Services Librarian at the Red Deer Public Library in Red Deer, AB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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