First (and let’s talk about this once and move on) this story revolves around Islam. More specifically, the main character’s interpretation of Islam and how it affects her life. She, Amal, is very clear that the religion is separate from the culture and politics, and the extremists are NOT justified by her religion. This contradicts stuff that I’ve read that says the religion, the culture, and the politics are all one. However, without reading the Koran and doing in-depth cultural studies, I cannot conclusively state that there is a separation, or that the interpretations are based on personal experiences and are still part of the religion. That’s all I’ll say on Islam.
In the story, Amal is a sixteen-year-old Australian-Muslim and has decided to wear the hijab (just a veil over the hair, not the full face covering) full time. This is her decision to show her dedication to her faith and to be modest. People react good and bad. Teen dramas happen. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
I’m not sure if Abdel-Fattah wrote this to tell her story and highlight prejudice, or if she wanted to use a controversial topic to make people pick up the book. I can’t get a read on her intentions.
What I did get a read on was her obvious dislike of using ‘he said, she said’ to indicate who is speaking. Because the language used by all of the characters is so similar, it’s hard to distinguish who is saying what (particularly with the teens). They all liked the same words, for example; spunk or dag. Only the adults with English as a second language such as Leila’s mum and Mrs Vaselli can be easily told apart with their unique speech patterns and pronunciation.
Now I’ve been avoiding this part, but it pissed me off. Don’t go thinking I’m doing a racist rant; this has nothing to do with Islam. This has everything to do with Amal’s obvious prejudice and hypocrisy. Throughout we’re told that she is exercising her right to wear the veil and be a good Muslim. Good for her. But she then makes it clear that she’s the only one to make her own choices as a teen because the only option for those not wanting to be modest and follow a religious scripture is to be a drunk slut. Yep, she uses the term ‘slut’ a lot to describe other girls. And that’s the only option she sees for them; get drunk and be a slut. Excuse me? What happened to personal choices? Why is she the only one getting to decide what’s right for her? Why can’t everyone else make their own life choices and get on with it?
And she hates it when she is being judged for being Muslim, but she judges just as much. A girl shows too much skin, she looks like a tart. Has large breasts, well she must be described in a shameful way. If you don’t want to be judged, then don’t judge others.
And then (there’s more), we’re being shown people of many faiths and seeing the similarities between them all (multiculturalism). But the one mention of atheism is done so as if it was a fad and it gave no meaning to the woman’s life so she gave up on it. Thanks, that makes me feel so welcomed in this multicultural community. Not. In truth, it gave me the impression that if I’m not religious and following a set guideline then I am not living my life right. The preachy crap really got on my nerves. Simple.
Finally, add the fact that Amal doesn’t grow as a character throughout the story and I have no nerves left.
I had hoped this story would be something like Looking For Alabrandi (which I loved). But it wasn’t. I was frustrated and annoyed with this. I had to place the book to the side and pace up and down the hall ranting about it just to let off steam. I don’t like how it implied that there are two options for teens, be pious and follow religion or just be drunk and shameful. I don’t care what religion you follow, but don’t go making out like you’re better than anyone else just because you follow rules written thousands of years ago. Amal has a lot of humility to learn.