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.