Adventures in Reading

Revisited Reviews: Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah

So, do we all remember when I said I was going to read some of those horrible young adult novels for women and how horrible they were? Upon reconsideration, I thought, what’s the point? After all, one merely has to look at the cover and read the dust jacket to leave with the unfailing opinion that these are books that grossly glamorize “slut” culture, “cattishness,” infighting, female competition, the beauty myth, etc (hell, the series are called “the gossip girls” and “clique”). And I thought: a la the world of PR, why not something positive rather than something negative?

Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian and Muslim writer and her book Does My Head Look Big In This? is the story of a teenage girl Amal who chooses to wear the hijab. The book deals quite well with three larger social themes, one specifically is about choice in religion and one example of what it’s like for a Muslim girl in a westernized society. The other larger social theme, which was quite well done regards identity, how we see ourselves, with a specific nod to dislodging the beauty myth. And finally, a critique of the sexual pressures placed on young girls to have sex.

At the same time, I did struggle with some ideas in the book. Early on, Abdel-Fattah takes a knock at feminism, which is rather well deserved in the sense of “hard-core feminists” (her words, not mine) making an issue out of wearing the hijab when choice is involved. Point taken, but this isn’t so much a feminist stance as much as western perceptions and xenophobia pertaining specifically to women of eastern cultures or cultural descent. Additionally, she also ensures a knock at atheism. This sort of misrepresentation (or misinterpretation) carries through the book in not identifying social issues as the root of the problem. After all, in a book that deals with the problematic scenarios of misrepresenting and misinterpreting Islam – well, pot kettle black.

Likewise, every page was detailed by a mass consumer mindset of shopping and buying and consuming. I did start to find this problematic and particularly as the book completely fails to escape the female young adult novel entrenched idea of female competition. Because, you know, a young adult novel can’t exist without two girls verbally (if not physically) abusing each other.

Overall it was an enjoyable read (spiced up with the usual young adult fair of crushes and family issues) and one I would recommend with some reservations. The social issue critique and discussion are brilliant, but my hope of finding a novel for young women to read that resists the plague of negative young adult diatribe was not found in this book.

While I did and do have some issues with this book, memory serves that it was a fun read and it seems one of the few books to come out in recent years attempting to deal with a more serious current issue. Particularly when we live in a society where media loses control when Rachel Ray wears a scarf/“keffiyeh” in a Dunkin’ Donuts ad, I think younger people can use anything they have to understand other cultures!

Randa also has a new book titled Ten Things I Hate About Me that looks like it’s being published in January 2009.

Other opinions: Tiny Little Reading Room.