This book is about 16 year old Amal, a Palestinian-Australian-Muslim girl who wears a hijab during her Year 11 in an Australian high school.
The teenage years are tough enough with acne problems, boys, sex, studies and the future WITHOUT the complications of Amal’s faith.
I come from Muslim country where 50% of the 30 million population are Muslim (Moslem).
Since Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, almost every Muslim teenage girl, college student and adult woman wears a head scarf or hijab. Even 3 year old little girls are “encouraged” to wear a head scarf.
For Amal in Does My Head Look Big In This?, she is a minority Muslim in a Western country.
Personal identity is one of the themes in the novel e.g. her touching experience with an anti-Muslim radio programme on the public bus, with the cool crowd in school, while applying for a part-time job and the day the Sept 11 news broke out in Australia.
Her experiences also show the reader the extent of the problems Muslims face in their daily life. For example, Amal’s beautiful and beautiful friend, Leila’s daily disputes with her ultra-traditional Muslim mother illustrates the Muslim woman’s struggle for education, career and love within their religion and culture.
Together with another Muslim friend, Yasmeen, Amal tries to keep Leila’s spirits up each time she comes up against her mother’s extremist views on education, work and marriage. While the girls laugh over Leila’s mother’s beliefs, they don’t realize how serious her mother is until she makes a decision that affects Leila’s bright future as a bright, teenage girl.
The books also looks at cross-cultural friendships through Amal’s Muslim friends from her hidayah (Muslim school) and her “secular” school friends, Eileen, a Japanese; Simone, a white Aussie. Her best friend, is actually a Jew named Josh.
At first, Amal restricts discussions on her faith to her Muslim friends and keeps to “secular” topics with her school friends. Later, she realizes that she didn’t have to segregate her friends that way after all.
The author aims to write a book that “allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes; to realize that she was experiencing the same dramas and challenges of adolescence as her non-Muslim peers”.
I find that the book explored themes similar to Melina Marchetta’s “Looking for Alibrandi” e.g.:
- identity, prejudice,
- peer pressure,
- relationships and
- an unusual friendship with an elderly person who reveals her past (Amal’s Greek neighbour, Mrs. Vaselli reminds me strongly of Josie Alibrandi’s Nonna).
While Amal is as intelligent as Josie, I personally don’t find her as strong a character. Personally, I find that she’s too self-conscious.
What I like best about the book is Amal’s sincerity. When she puts on the hijab, she finally realizes that she just has to act like a normal Year 11 student going on to Year 12 – the only thing different is her attire. She is a hijabster 🙂
If you’re looking for a book with a multicultural theme for teenagers, I would recommend this book to teenagers. Get a copy from Amazon!