Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big In This. Orchard Books: New York, 2005. ISBN 9780439919470
Amal is an Australian-Palestinian girl living in the suburb of Melbourne. She has decided to make the most important decision of her life: to wear the hijab full time. Attending a snobby prep school, Amal is uncertain of what lies ahead. The story takes place after 9/11 when tension between Muslims and the rest of the world are high. Can Amal navigate the rough waters of school, friends, family, and faith? Will her strength in her beliefs be resolute and unshakeable when she’s faced with adversity because of her decision?
This was a wonderful book. I really enjoyed it. The story about this young woman is so compelling. The very informal and conversational tone to the book pulls you into it, and into the character’s mind.
Amal has made the decision to wear the hijab full time. I’m really glad I read this book, because it’s important to understand that for most women, wearing the hijab, or any other form of head covering by any other religion, is a personal decision, and it’s usually one that comes with a lot of thought and care.
“I’m terrified. But at the same time I feel like my passion and conviction in Islam are busting inside me and I want to prove to myself that i”m strong enough to wear a badge of my faith.” (pg. 7)
“The veil, dear.” Her voice is annoyingly phony. “So you’ve been made to wear it from today?”
“Nobody has made me wear it, Mrs. Walsh. It’s my decision.” I shift in the chair, my butt numb from the hard wood.
“Your decision to cover yourself up?” she asks with the faintest hint of skepticism.
I look at her with a bewildered expression. “Yes, it was my decision.” (pg. 39)
This book does a wonderful job of showing Amal as a “normal” girl, while still addressing some of the cultural issues that some Muslims face. Her friend, Leila, for example, is pressured by her mother to get married, even though she is still a teen. This has nothing to do with religion dictation, but rather cultural or societal expectations.
“It depends on what you mean by religious,” Leila answers. “Mom’s following her own customs more than Islam. She doesn’t really have an in-depth understanding about the religion, you know? Whereas my relatives in Turkey are all educated about Islam. The girls pray and some of them wear the veil and they go to university and work, because they know that it’s their right to do that in Islam. Mom’s more into following social customs.” (Pg. 151-152)
This book takes place 1 year after 9/11 and does a great job of showing racism of others in the heat of the anti-Muslim hysteria and how Muslims themselves felt, watching their religion being warped and twisted by people who don’t even understand the religion.
“Terrorists bombed a nightclub in Bali on Saturday. It’s horrific.”
It’s like a sandpit in my throat.
Ms. Walsh’s voice booms over us: “I know how distressed you’ll all be about the weekend bombings in Bali. please make sure to talk to your teachers and the school counselor if you need to. I’m sure you’ll all have the chance to share your feeling and emotions in class.”
It’s agonizing. I can’t feel only grief. Or horror. Or anger. It’s too mixed up. Incongruous, disjointed, and completely insane thoughts flash through my mind. Mom and Dad wanting to book a trip there for their anniversary. What song was playing when the bomb went off? Were there honeymooners? Oh my God, how could honeymooners be killed like that? Did the bombers watch as their inferno turned human life into carcasses? Was I going to be incriminated for their crimes? Was I going to be allowed to share in my country’s mourning or would I be blamed? ” (pg. 249-250)
Amal learns a lot about herself and her faith in this compelling novel. I highly recommend it!
From School Library Journal:
“Australian 11th-grader Amal is smart, funny, outspoken, a good student, and a loyal friend. She is also a devout Muslim who decides to wear the hijab, or head covering, full-time. The story tells of her emotional and spiritual journey as she copes with a mad crush on a boy, befriends an elderly Greek neighbor, and tries to help a friend who aspires to be a lawyer but whose well-intentioned mother is trying to force her to leave school and get married. Amal is also battling the misconceptions of non-Muslims about her religion and culture. While the novel deals with a number of serious issues, it is extremely funny and entertaining, and never preachy or forced. The details of Amal’s family and social life are spot-on, and the book is wonderful at showing the diversity within Muslim communities and in explaining why so many women choose to wear the hijab. Amal is an appealing and believable character. She trades verbal jibes with another girl, she is impetuous and even arrogant at times, and she makes some serious errors of judgment. And by the end of the story, she and readers come to realize that ‘Putting on the hijab isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning of it.'”
“Like the author of this breakthrough debut novel, Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian “whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is “not hygienic”). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. For her uncle who wants to assimilate, “foreign” is the f-word, and his overdone Aussie slang and flag-waving is a total embarrassment. On the other hand, her friend Leila nearly breaks down when her ignorant Turkish mom wants only to marry her daughter off (“Why study?”) and does not know that it is Leila’s Islamic duty “to seek knowledge, to gain an education.” Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen’s conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere. Rochman, Hazel –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”
From Kirkus Review:
“Determined to prove she’s strong enough to ‘wear a badge of my faith,’ Amal faces ostracism and ridicule as she dons her hijab with both good humor and trepidation. . . . Abdel-Fattah’s fine first novel offers a world of insight to post-9/11 readers.”
Books by Fattah:
Ten Things I Hate About Me ISBN: 9780439943710
Where the Streets Had a Name ISBN: 9780330424202
When Michael Met Mina ISBN: 9781743534977
Books Written by Muslim Women:
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ISBN: 9780375714832
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai ISBN: 9780316322409
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi ISBN: 9780062085481
Discussion Topic: What other faiths use outward symbols of religion and a commitment made to God? Do these other faiths differ from Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab?