You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/5th March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin/Penguin
Pages: 288/5 hrs and 21 mins
Narrator: Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

Layla’s mind goes a million miles a minute, so does her mouth – unfortunately her better judgement can take a while to catch up! Although she believes she was justified for doing what she did, a suspension certainly isn’t the way she would have wished to begin her time at her fancy new high school. Despite the setback, Layla’s determined to show everyone that she does deserve her scholarship and sets her sights on winning a big invention competition. But where to begin?

Looking outside and in, Layla will need to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be if she has any chance of succeeding.

I have mixed thoughts about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, and how it didn’t become an Issue book, but at the same time I think it didn’t do enough to flesh out the issues it does raise. In essence it is a good story, there is a balance between Layla being the Minority Spokesperson but there is also a universal story about finding your place in the new school and being the awkward age of being a teenager.

Layla has dreams and she makes sacrifices to achieve those dreams. I like that there is a protagonist who isn’t shy and meek, or a full on fighter, she is loud and cheerful, which she is completely ok with, and she has goals.  She screams self-confidence and her Sudanese and Muslim traditions are part of her day and not huge plot points in the narrative, it’s a background part.

There are themes of ethnicity, belonging, family, and bullying which are all dealt with reasonably well. One thing doesn’t stand out as the main point of the book, they are all woven together like they are in life, coming and going and being ever present in the background. I did love that Layla doesn’t have to stop being a teenager to become a fighter against the bullying or an advocate for her heritage, she could just enjoy her life.

It pays to remember this is the narration of a thirteen year old girl and those around her are year eight students which is a great eye opener to the next generation because while some parts were reminding me of my own year eight experience, the language and the technology is a new experience. There are also great male/female friendships. I was worried at the start based on how Abdel-Magied introduced them, but it was great to see that girls and boys could be friends without it being an issue.

Unfortunately Abdel-Magied’s writing is not entirely seamless, there is some repetition and the language can be clunky. I didn’t mind the teen slang, it may date but that was fine. It was more that I think it needed another edit, needed to be refined a bit more. This is evident listening to the audiobook. Even though Abdel-Magied reads it herself, and she does a decent job, it makes you even more aware of the writing as it can be jarring at times and highlights the flaws.

It skirts along big issues but doesn’t focus on them any further. Initially a good idea, and while I am glad Layla and the book doesn’t become focused on those issues, by the end I think it needed a bit more depth and maybe more length. In a strange way it felt like the start of a series, that all the issues half introduced in this story would be addressed in the next book. There were a lot of issues half raised and I kept expecting certain things to have more of an impact.

One thing that irked me is I honestly can’t see how this can be classed as an LGBT book like I’ve seen when it happens in the last few pages of the book and has no effect on the plot whatsoever. It could be edited out and it would mean nothing. For all the parts that work, there are just as much that doesn’t. It’s a book that borders on two sets of audiences, kids and teenagers. Layla is 13 and I think anybody over that age won’t get as much out of it as those who are younger. There’s some great messages in there that suit the younger age bracket that can escape being brushed over with minimal depth.

You can purchase You Must Be Layla via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

 

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