Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah 2005

Rating: 5/5

IQ "Because it's pretty hard to walk around with people staring at your "towel-head" and not feel kind of pleased with yourself-if you manage to get through the stares and comments with your head held high. That's when this warm feeling buzzes through you and you smile to yourself, knowing God's watching you, knowing that He knows you're trying to be strong to please Him. Like you're both in on a private joke and something special and warm and extraordinary is happening and nobody else in the world knows about it because it's your own experience, your own personal friendship with your Creator. I guess when I'm not wearing the hijab I feel like I'm missing out. I feel cheated out of that special bond." pg.7-8

Does My Head Look Big in This?
is about Amal an Australian-Palestinian girl who decides to wear the hijab full-time. The hijab is a Muslim head-scarf and is only not worn around close family members. Amal's parents are worried that she isn't ready for the ignorance and prejudice she will face both at school and out in the world. The principal of her private high school doesn't understand her decision at all nor do her classmates.

What a fantastic book. I read this book as my first book in the read-a-thon, early in the morning. I was afraid I would wake up my entire family because of how hard I was laughing. Amal is hysterical. She has a very dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. She calls people out on their BS and I love her for it. She's definitely one of my new favorite heroines. I really admired Amal for making such a big decision when the consequences were so great.
Honestly, before reading this book, whenever I saw a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, I would have just assumed her parents were forcing her and she must be miserable. I think a majority of the Western world feels the same way, seeing the hijab as a form of oppression. After reading this book, I realized the error in my thinking. Yes, some Muslim parents do force their daughters to wear the hijab, but often times the girls themselves want to wear it, as an expression of their faith. It's no different from a Christian wearing a cross or crucifix, or a Jewish person wearing a Star of David. And yet it's frowned upon by Western society to see young women wearing a hijab. I'm so thankful for America (other countries, like Australia) where people can practice freedom of religion. Also, I admit to doing a double-take when I see a woman wearing a hijab. Not out of hatred or racism, more so because I'm curious. Why do they wear it? Now I know and I'm so glad that I do. Next time I pass a woman wearing a hijab, I'll smile like always, and treat her as I would anyone else.

Does My Head Look Big in This?,
also does a good job if explaining aspects of Islamic culture. The hijab, the food, religious holidays (like Eid and Ramadan) and the beliefs. I figured Muslims can't have sex before marriage, but I didn't know they couldn't have any physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. This proves to be quite a problem between Amal and her crush, Adam. It also provides a good glimpse into Australian culture. I've never read any books set in Australia so I really enjoyed reading the expressions Australians use.
The prejudice made my blood boil. It was interesting reading this book, since it's set in Australia. I know that (sadly) the prejudice Amal faced would be the same regardless of the country she's in, whereever Muslims are the minority. People called her "towel-head", "scarf girl" and still viewed her and other Muslims as terrorists. These examples of ignorance make me so upset. Amal is so witty, always ready with a comeback. For example, when the school president (Lana) asks her to give a speech on the topic of Islam and terrorism, she responds that she will, only if the student president gives a speech on the Ku Klux Klan or IRA, since they claim they are Christians. Touche. She makes her point and Lana is even a bit ashamed.

All the characters are extremely well-developed and three dimensional. Amal's best friends are hilarious and super loyal. Leila and Yasmeen are Amal's two Muslim best friends and reading the way they interact is such fun. They make fun of their more traditional parents and joke about Muslim stereotypes. They are no different from any other girls and I think many people make the mistake of thinking that Muslims are way different from them, more serious and religious. This book really reiterates the point that, as humans we are all the same. Also, Leila wears the hijab, but Yasmeen doesn't and I liked reading about why they chose to wear/not to wear it. The girls friendship is also a sad one, because you grow frustrated with their parents, especially Leila's. Leila is brilliant and wants to go to college, but all her mother cares about is marrying her off and her father doesn't say much. This was an interesting relationship because in many cultures, boys and marriage are last, they should not be the focus. Education first. Amal also has two good friends from her private prep school, Simone and Eileen. They are both a riot. Simone struggles with her body (sees herself as fat) and it's great to see her grow. Eileen is Japanese and she's very determined, but she's also pushed very hard by her parents. The budding romance between Amal and Adam is realistic and refreshing and I didn't see the end result coming.

I loved Does My Head Look Big in This? The book had it all; faith, self-esteem, romance and humor. I highly recommend this book and I honestly think this book (along with a few others) provides a strong reason as to why YA literature should be included in the classroom. Students need to read more books like this (that are funny and poignant), to help them remove their prejudices and respect our differences.

This is the UK/Australian cover. Which do you like better? I like this one better because it's nice to see a female poc on a cover and I like how Amal's two best friends from school are in the background. I also like how it's a picture of Amal wrapping her hijab and you get to see the full headscarf whereas on the US cover you don't get a full view of the hijab.

Wow this was a pretty long review!


  1. Hm. Visually, I think the American cover is more striking. However, I think the trend of only showing part of the protagonist's face or body is troublesome, and I like that Amal is HAPPY on the second cover. I'd love to see a compromise--the style of the American cover, but with Amal's full face showing, looking sort of quizzical/half-smiling to show both that she's confident in her decision and that she's questioning the world around her.

    Thanks for the review. This has been on the 'get around to it someday' list, and I'll bump it up to the 'get a hold of it ASAP' list.

  2. I liked the US cover better just on visuals, but then I read why you like the other one and it is nice to see the full hijab since many of our students may not have seen one in real life. This book gets checked out quite a bit from my (high school) library, which is a good thing!

  3. I like the UK one!! I didn't even know there's another cover for it, lol. But yeah, I'm a big supporter of covers with NON-CUT UP FACES in them, so the UK one makes me smile.

    This book was seriously fun to read. *read it this summer* It's totally laugh-out-loud worthy. =D

  4. Great review! This sounds so good!

  5. It's great that you got so much out of this book. I really enjoyed it too, but I was hugely disappointed by my US Scholastic edition.

    I am Australian, currently living in Canada, and I was appalled by how much they Americanised it. If the word "Melbourne" hadn't been there, I could easily assume it was set in America somewhere. There was no sense of location at all. (It's especially disappointing because I get very homesick, and want to read about my home!)

    While on the one hand, I know that this isn't just an Australian issue - like you said, it's across the board - but on the other hand, I just get so sick and tired of Australian-authored and set books being stripped of their Australian-ness. It's sad, and disrespectful, but the publishers seriously think their American audience wouldn't be able to understand it otherwise! Which is hugely insulting.

    My review is here (I ended up including a list of words they had needlessly changed. The 911 thing is especially bad).

    p.s. I prefer the Australian cover. The US one is just too bright and glittery - though they both convey the humorous qualities of the book.

  6. I enjoyed this book and I'm glad Aurillia weighed in.

  7. @revolutionsheep-I actually think the Uk cover is a bit more striking since Amal does look happy and you can see the hijab, but I like both covers. Defintely get hold of it asap!

    @hcmurdoch-I'm so glad it gets checked out a lot, it's such a wonderful book! Both covers are good.

    @Ah Yuan-until I started blogging I never knew books had different covers (US and UK/Australian). A LOL read for sure!

    @kelsey-read it :)

    @aurilla-I commented on your review, thanks for sharing the link! It's true, I often forgot that the book was set in Australia.

    @susan-yup, I'm so glad I read it.

  8. i love this book :) its great and i certainly do love this book:D

  9. i certainly love the book + author :D:D:D:D:D

  10. @Anon1-Me too!

    @Anon2-She's one of my favorite authors :)

  11. wow i def wanna read it now. thanks for the review. I'm gonna go with the American cover because the half face showing gives suspense and makes me wanna read it more.


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