Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: Ten Things I Hate About Me, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Jamilah Towfeek is living a double life. She finds it hard to fit in fit in with her Lebanese Muslim family - her widowed father is strict and obsessed with their reputation, her sister Shereen is a student activist wearing hijab covered in peace signs, and her brother Bilal wants to be a car mechanic, much to their father's disappointment. She doesn't want to have the same problems at her school in Australia, so she dyes her hair blonde, wears blue contact lenses and answers to 'Jamie', making up excuses to explain why she can't go to parties.

Jamilah has kept this up for the past three years, but things are about to change. She's noticing that other teenagers don't have the same difficulties with their identities, and she feels ashamed. One of her friends has started going out with one of the popular but mean boys, and one of his friends is attracted to Jamie. The school prom is approaching, and the traditional band she plays the darabuka (drums) in has been booked to perform - if she goes, she will blow her cover. Confused, she makes a new friend online and starts to tell him everything, about Jamie and Jamilah, her family, and all the things she hates about her life.

I had mixed feelings about this book. The characterisation of Jamie was great, cultural details were interesting, the casual bullying that takes place at the school was captured wonderfully, and I think it would be a good book for teenagers to read to help them understand and get on better with people from different cultural backgrounds. However, I was a bit disappointed in the plot. I could see the "twist" coming a mile off, and I felt the ending was rushed, with too much coming together at the same time - though to be fair, I am an adult who has read hundreds of teenage books in my time, I'm hardly coming at this with fresh eyes! I would also have liked to see more of Jamilah's relationship with her religion, it was barely touched upon.

I am bemused by the cover design for this book. On the front there is the image you can see above this review, but on the back cover, the same model is wearing hijab (the headscarf/veil). Jamilah does not wear one. At no point does she consider doing so. The cover really goes against the message of the book by invoking a stereotypical image of Muslim women in this way. It would have been better if there was no second image and a longer blurb, it is only a couple of lines, which meant that I had to start reading the book to find out what it was about.

I would expect 12-15 year old girls to enjoy this book the most. Although the protagonist is older, I don't think the plot is sophisticated enough for teens of the same age and higher to be convinced by the story. I would also suggest "Ten Things I Hate About Me" as a good book for school libraries, as there are not many books about teenaged Muslims available.

The BookDepository

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