Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Does My Head Look Big In This: Choice

Does My Head Look Big In This?
Randa Abdel-Fattah
reviewer: Ari

Rating: 5/5

IQ "Because it's pretty hard to walk around with people staring at your "towel-head" and not feel kind of pleased with yourself-if you manage to get through the stares and comments with your head held high. That's when this warm feeling buzzes through you and you smile to yourself, knowing God's watching you, knowing that He knows you're trying to be strong to please Him. Like you're both in on a private joke and something special and warm and extraordinary is happening and nobody else in the world knows about it because it's your own experience, your own personal friendship with your Creator. I guess when I'm not wearing the hijab I feel like I'm missing out. I feel cheated out of that special bond." pg.7-8

Does My Head Look Big in This? is about Amal an Australian-Palestinian girl who decides to wear the hijab full-time. The hijab is a Muslim head-scarf and is only not worn around close family members. Amal's parents are worried that she isn't ready for the ignorance and prejudice she will face both at school and out in the world. The principal of her private high school doesn't understand her decision at all nor do her classmates.

What a fantastic book. I read this book as my first book in the read-a-thon, early in the morning. I was afraid I would wake up my entire family because of how hard I was laughing. Amal is hysterical. She has a very dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. She calls people out on their BS and I love her for it. She's definitely one of my new favorite heroines. I really admired Amal for making such a big decision when the consequences were so great.

Honestly, before reading this book, whenever I saw a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, I would have just assumed her parents were forcing her and she must be miserable. I think a majority of the Western world feels the same way, seeing the hijab as a form of oppression. After reading this book, I realized the error in my thinking. Yes, some Muslim parents do force their daughters to wear the hijab, but often times the girls themselves want to wear it, as an expression of their faith. It's no different from a Christian wearing a cross or crucifix, or a Jewish person wearing a Star of David. And yet it's frowned upon by Western society to see young women wearing a hijab. I'm so thankful for America (other countries, like Australia) where people can practice freedom of religion. Also, I admit to doing a double-take when I see a woman wearing a hijab. Not out of hatred or racism, more so because I'm curious. Why do they wear it? Now I know and I'm so glad that I do. Next time I pass a woman wearing a hijab, I'll smile like always, and treat her as I would anyone else.

Does My Head Look Big in This?, also does a good job if explaining aspects of Islamic culture. The hijab, the food, religious holidays (like Eid and Ramadan) and the beliefs. I figured Muslims can't have sex before marriage, but I didn't know they couldn't have any physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. This proves to be quite a problem between Amal and her crush, Adam. It also provides a good glimpse into Australian culture. I've never read any books set in Australia so I really enjoyed reading the expressions Australians use.

The prejudice made my blood boil. It was interesting reading this book, since it's set in Australia. I know that (sadly) the prejudice Amal faced would be the same regardless of the country she's in, whereever Muslims are the minority. People called her "towel-head", "scarf girl" and still viewed her and other Muslims as terrorists. These examples of ignorance make me so upset. Amal is so witty, always ready with a comeback. For example, when the school president (Lana) asks her to give a speech on the topic of Islam and terrorism, she responds that she will, only if the student president gives a speech on the Ku Klux Klan or IRA, since they claim they are Christians. Touche. She makes her point and Lana is even a bit ashamed.

All the characters are extremely well-developed and three dimensional. Amal's best friends are hilarious and super loyal. Leila and Yasmeen are Amal's two Muslim best friends and reading the way they interact is such fun. They make fun of their more traditional parents and joke about Muslim stereotypes. They are no different from any other girls and I think many people make the mistake of thinking that Muslims are way different from them, more serious and religious. This book really reiterates the point that, as humans we are all the same. Also, Leila wears the hijab, but Yasmeen doesn't and I liked reading about why they chose to wear/not to wear it. The girls friendship is also a sad one, because you grow frustrated with their parents, especially Leila's. Leila is brilliant and wants to go to college, but all her mother cares about is marrying her off and her father doesn't say much. This was an interesting relationship because in many cultures, boys and marriage are last, they should not be the focus. Education first. Amal also has two good friends from her private prep school, Simone and Eileen. They are both a riot. Simone struggles with her body (sees herself as fat) and it's great to see her grow. Eileen is Japanese and she's very determined, but she's also pushed very hard by her parents. The budding romance between Amal and Adam is realistic and refreshing and I didn't see the end result coming.

I loved Does My Head Look Big in This? The book had it all; faith, self-esteem, romance and humor. I highly recommend this book and I honestly think this book (along with a few others) provides a strong reason as to why YA literature should be included in the classroom. Students need to read more books like this (that are funny and poignant), to help them remove their prejudices and respect our differences.

This cover is the UK/Australian cover. Which do you like better? I like this one better because it's nice to see a female poc on a cover and I like how Amal's two best friends from school are in the background. I also like how it's a picture of Amal wrapping her hijab and you get to see the full headscarf whereas on the US cover you don't get a full view of the hijab.
Wow this was a pretty long review!
Ari says she's sarcastic, caring, slightly crazy teenager. She loves to read, listen to music, dance and have fun. She's been reading seriously since second grade. Proud to be black. Ari is one of Color Online's CORA girls. They rock. You'll hear more about them. Stay tuned. In the meantime, check out Ari's blog, Reading In Color.


KLBradyWrites said...

This is a fantastic review, Ari. I don't read a lot of YA but I think I'd really enjoy this one.

KLBradyWrites said...

By the way, I think I prefer the first cover, just because I think it conveys the fun, humor, and sarcasm of the title. I'd definitely pick it up if I saw it in a store.

Mardel said...

I enjoyed reading your review. You give great reviews. I like the UK cover better myself, mostly because it does not have all the polkadots on the cover. Is it my imagination or poor eyes, or is her eyes blue on the UK cover. I like the eyes from the US cover.

Regarding the hajib, I think that because we have heard and seen pictures of women from Afghanistan in their traditional dress at the same time we're watching news stories about the oppression of the women we get the idea that the hajib = oppression and maltreatment. Now your review and comments are also making me re-think this stererotype (that's what it boils down to)

Thanks for the review and the thoughts.

Jeannine said...

Wow super long review, but great. It is now on my long list of must reads. I have to say, I like the first cover better. I like the dots it feels very youthful.With her eyes rolled up it feels like she is having a conversation with herself. Like "okay, hijab's on, let's do it."

Michelle said...

This review is interesting. I'll admit to having been a little surprised when you said you always assumed that parents were forcing their daughters to adorn the hijab and that they were most probably miserable.

I've read about this often, how the West feel that the hijab is a sign of how Muslim women are oppressed. But I almost always get surprised whenever I see this stated anywhere. I'm not a Muslim, but coming from a Muslim-majority country, it just never occured to me, at all! To me, it's as typical as myself having black hair, or this other girl with blonde hair. It was always just an everyday thing to me.

So I rather think it interesting to see how books like these actually help show this 'other side' to the rest of the world.

I guess there are still a lot of gaps that need bridging between the East and West.

Color Online said...


I live in Detroit. Dearborn, Michigan has the second (if I remember correctly) largest Arab American population in the country. Growing up here I don't assume that every Muslim woman who wears the hijab is forced to.

Islam and culture vary among people. All Christians aren't alike, all black people aren't alike, I try to remember generalizations have some truth, some basis but there aren't any absolutes.

Specifically regarding that hijab, I had a friend who married an Ethopian Muslim and she wore the most beautiful head coverings. I can't speak how she felt growing up, but as an adult, she gave me the impression that she preferred the modesty and beauty she found in wearing it. I should add they are a modern, young couple who were traditional about some cultural matters and liberal regarding others.

DMHLBIT is an important book to have in school and public libraries because it offers a different perspective. Not only did it show a young girl choosing to wear a traditional garment but it also showed that all Muslims do not observe culture and religious practices the same.

It is troubling that limited exposure often leads to assuming to know more than we do and that makes it easy to fail to consider there are perspectives we don't know.

Beverly said...

Great review
I am putting this book on my TBR list (which is already long for 2010)

Anonymous said...

I like how people are referring to the Australian cover, also used in the UK, of a book by an Australian and set in Australia as the 'UK' cover.

I read this book and a couple of others by this author -- another set here with a less-happy-to-stand-out Palestinian-Australian girl, who with a name shortening and some hair bleach pretends to be Anglo, and one set in Palestine with a girl who tries to sneak into Jerusalem to steal some dirt from her grandmother's old place. I enjoyed all of them, and I've frequently seen this book compared to "Looking for Alibrandi", a book about a third-generation Italian-Australian girl regarded at least by Australian schoolteachers as a YA classic.

MissAttitude said...

@KLBrady-Thank you and I highly recommend this book :) I think the first cover is fun too, but I'm partial to the UK/Australian cover because I like faces!

@Mardel-Haha her eyes look brown to me in the UK/Australian cover. You've paid me one of the highest compliments by saying my review is making you rethink sterotypes! That is why I do what I do :D

@Jeanine-Yeah I didn't realize how long my review was either, I'll work on shorter reviews and see what people like better. I love how you interpret the first cover "ok hijab's on, let's do it." I never thought of that, but I like that!

@Michelle-There are defintely a lot of gaps that need to be bridged between East and West and these books help. It's understandable that you wouldn't see the hijab that way because you grew up in a country where that's the norm. I don't go to a school or live a neighborhood where you see hijabs and I made an incorrect assumption. But some women are forced to wear the hijab (one of Amal's friends is forced to), but not all so I glady admit I was wrong.

@Beverly-Yay! I have a huge tbr list for 2010 as well :)

@kelly holden-In my review I refer to it as the UK/Australian cover, but I suppose people might just find it easier to say/type UK, no harm/disrespect meant. I want to read the rest of the author's books because I loved this one so much! I've never heard of Looking for Alibrandi, but it sounds interesting, I'll look out for it.