10 Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st October 2006 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Australia
Pages: 278
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★ – 1 Star

At school I’m Aussie-blonde Jamie — one of the crowd. At home I’m Muslim Jamilah — driven mad by my Stone Age dad. I should win an Oscar for my acting skills. But I can’t keep it up for much longer…

Jamie just wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to be seen as a stereotypical Muslim girl, so she does everything possible to hide that part of herself. Even if it means pushing her friends away because she’s afraid to let them know her dad forbids her from hanging out with boys or that she secretly loves to play the darabuka (Arabic drums).

There are so many things wrong with this story. Ignoring the fact that there are plot holes and an unbelievable plot in the first place, I don’t think this told the story Abdel-Fattah was trying to tell.

One thing that irked me was that for a modern sixteen year old girl she gave out way too many personal details to a virtually anonymous person who gives no details back in return. She reveals so much to them and we know nothing, secret identity or not. This secret admirer could be anybody and it is her blind trust that they are genuine which annoyed me the most. Plus, on the truly petty side, her email doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Another thing was her hypocritical nature. For all her arguments against racist stereotypes she is rude and stereotypical herself against others. The only issue there is it isn’t classed as racism so it isn’t seen as bad. The comments she makes to some people are just as outdated and rude but she doesn’t see that there is a problem with it. The other thing she never has a problem with is that she is in love with the racist boy at her school which is problematic in itself.

I understand she is hiding herself and can’t expose who she is, but she is also weak and a coward that even if she can’t say anything, she can’t even reprimand their behaviour in her mind. She can’t fume and get angry that she can’t tell these idiots off, we don’t see her have any emotion at all where she is fearful of revealing herself but also angry she can’t fight back against the racist behaviour. It would have made her a better character to know she was struggling with standing up for what’s right and trying to protect herself at the same time.

I hated that after an entire book about telling us how over reactive her father is about her social life and how she is a good girl who wouldn’t do anything wrong, she proves him right the second she is able to go out with friends. It was a waste of so many scenes making us root for her against her dad as it proved she really was just like he expected her to be.

As a main character she doesn’t feel fully formed, like she is still under construction. She talks about detention like she has been there all the time despite going for the first time, and her relationships with other characters are confusing. She has deep conversations with people she barely knows and doesn’t say anything to people she has been friends with for a while. Overall the dialogue is unnatural and doesn’t feel real. These aren’t conversations that real teenagers would be having, certainly not the way it’s been written. I will admit I skimmed some parts as the narrative becomes boring and cycles around the same things quite a lot. There are super cringy moments and eye rolling moments which highlight further how strangely this story is written.

This certainly failed in whatever goal it was trying to achieve. Hate is Such a Strong Word by Sarah Ayoub is a much better example of what Abdel-Fattah is trying to do and while it isn’t exactly the same, it’s a better exploration of the Lebanese experience in Australia with all the exploration of racism, fitting in, and teenage drama.

You can purchase 10 Things I Hate About Me via the following

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The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

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Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

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Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

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