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A girl with guts

Kavitha Mandana


Amal's is the story of many kids of immigrants -- facing rude racist remarks in school; being left out of groups and gangs, but somehow fighting it to excel in studies.


Till you get to know her better, Amal seems pretty much like any teenager. She loves watching reruns of 'Friends', she's worried about her weight, she can't bear to miss the latest episode of her favourite TV serial…But wait a minute, Amal's full name is Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim. And she's growing up in Australia. "Does My Head Look Big in this?" by Randa Abdel Fattah is about one crucial year in this girl's life.

In some senses, Amal is on the battlefront. Not only is she dealing with terrible teenage dilemmas like, 'Where did that pimple appear from overnight!", "Does the class's cutest guy find me cute?" and "I know my parents won't let me stay out late for my classmate's party…", but she also has to face an almost all-white class's prejudices against Muslims…especially after September 11th. And worse, during the Bali bomb blast, when most victims were Australians. Amal's fear of her classmates after the Bali blast is so high, she skips school for days. You see, Amal has chosen to wear the hijab, the headscarf - so she can no longer blend into the mixture of ethnic communities in Australia, but stands out as Muslim.

Amal's parents emigrated to Australia from Bethlehem years ago, her father a doctor and mother a dentist. They sound just like most of our parents, Indian parents, that is. They expect their only daughter to study well, and pursue a university education. She can go out with her girl friends and chat with the classmates on the phone …but NO 'boyfriends'! Though Amal's mother wears the hijab, she doesn't expect her daughter to. It's Amal who chooses to.

So dive into Amal's story as she keeps switching gears. Between her own liberal, warm Muslim home and the sometimes very old-fashioned homes of her Muslim friends. Between the values of her parents, who're very comfortable being Australian AND Muslim AND Palestinian, and her mother's brother's family who try so desperately to be totally Australian, they even dye their hair blonde!

Amal's is the story of many kids of immigrants -- facing rude racist remarks in school; being left out of groups and gangs, but somehow fighting it to excel in studies. Amal is a class topper and on the school's debating team. What sees her through are her gang of friends - Elaine, a Japanese girl; Simone, a big-hearted Australian girl; Josh, a boy from an ultra-orthodox Jewish family and Adam …the class' cutest guy!

All these teenagers share their experiences of being 'outsiders' and get their strength from their 'otherness'.. Amal's story tells you how different each Muslim family is…covering the entire range of 'cool', broad-minded, orthodox, very-very orthodox, etc. Her first cousin (whose mother's hair is 'blonde') has no restrictions on her. Her friend Leila is constantly being set up to marry someone (even as she's completing her last year in school) by a very orthodox mother…she actually runs away because she wants to study so badly. In all these family stories, you recognise bits of your own family. Some of us have tough home rules to live by, and some of us don't.

And if you're someone like Amal, you set such tough rules for your self! Randa Abdel Fattah is a fabulous writer with a terrific sense of humour. The note about the book's author mentions that she's working on her second novel - I can't wait. And I hope it's about Amal, because I'm dying to know what she does in college!

I got the book from the Scholastic warehouse. So look out for it at the Scholastic fair that's bound to come to your school. Or contact 5/BC-106, First Floor, 5th B-Cross
HRBR Layout, 3rd Block, Kalyan Nagar; Bangalore - 560 043, Karnataka
Tel: 080-25446445
Price. Rs. 295.

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