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

That does it. I'm just going to have to go to Australia. With several extra suitcases. Or some really big boxes and lots of packing tape.

Now, I know it's wrong to generalize about authors, or anyone really, based on nationality, but I have yet to read a book by an Australian author that I haven't absolutely adored. E.g.: Markus Zusak, Justine Larbalestier, Jaclyn Moriarty, Elizabeth Knox... and now Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Abdel-Fattah's debut novel, Does My Head Look Big in This?, tells the Amal, a 16-year-old Muslim girl in Australia, who makes the decision to wear the hijab full-time. This is a difficult decision, especially considering that she goes to a private prep school in Melbourne where she is the only Muslim. But, Amal is strong enough to do this for her faith, and witty enough to stand up for herself. Example:

"So if I got drunk every weekend I'd be normal, but because I take about ten minutes out of my day to pray and wear a piece of material on my head, I'm this freak of nature?"(174-5)

What I loved about the novel was the depiction of such a wide variety of Muslim characters and situations. On one hand, we see Amal's friend Leila whose mother cannot even read and who follows the traditions of her village in Turkey rather than the teachings of Islam, expecting Leila to give up her dream of being a lawyer so that she can get married at seventeen. On the other hand, we see Amal's Uncle Joe and Aunt Mandy who have changed their names, dyed their hair, and do everything they possibly can to assimilate and to make themselves appear Australian (and yet, they won't allow their oldest daughter, a college student, to have a boyfriend).

And, better yet, we see that this variety exists in other cultures and religions. Amal becomes friends with her crotchety old neighbor who is Greek Orthodox. Her best friend Simone struggles with her weight and with her mother's repeated diet suggestions. At its heart, this is a novel about family and friendship, about being open to other cultures and traditions, and most importantly, about growing up and making your own decisions. And it made me laugh. What more can a reader want?

Anyway, since plane tickets are a bit out of my price-range at the moment... any suggestions for other Australian authors I should try? Or for blogs/websites where I might get some ideas? I know about insideadog (though I can't figure out how to subscribe to their feed), and The New Misrule Blog, but I'd love to find some other sites.

4 comments:

Mindy said...

I loved Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. I haven't read any of her other books, but I definitely recommend that one.

emmaco said...

Hi Sara - I have no idea how I found your blog (lots of links along the way) but as an Australian I have to like this entry :)

Along with Melina Marchetta I'd recommend Garth Nix if you like fantasy. His book Sabriel is utterly fantastic. Another YA fantasy out at the moment over there is Juliet Marillier's Wildwood dancing, a fairy tale/fantasy Transylvania story.

Otherwise I'll go think of other Aussies who are published over there and report back.

PS: Knox is a New Zealander, but we have a long tradition of claiming successful Kiwis as our own, so please feel free to keep calling her Australian :)

Sara said...

Thanks for the suggestions!!!

Mindy - After I saw your comment, I grabbed Saving Francesca from the shelf and work, and I'm really enjoying it so far.

emmaco -- Thanks for stopping by (however you got here ;) ) I do like fantasy, and I keep meaning to read Garth Nix... And you're right, I'd completely forgotten that Elizabeth Knox was from New Zealand. Thanks for telling me!

TadMack said...

Feeling the Aussie love today, aren't you, during the Vegemite Tour? There really is a lot of awesome stuff coming from that far shore. And I can't believe that Margo Lanagan says that YA authors (or any authors, really, unless sportwriters or rich people) aren't well regarded in Australia. HellO?!?!?

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