Amal is a sixteen year old hyphenated Aussie-Palestinian-Muslim. She goes to a posh private school in Melbourne and has a monster crush on her schoolmate Adam.
She's also just decided to wear the hijab full-time. That means on the bus, out shopping, and basically whenever she's around men outside of her family. And yes, to her posh private school.
Amal knows it's going to take guts, and she's prepared for that. It's 100% her choice, but that doesn't mean it's going to be 100% easy...
Does My Head Look Big In This? is chicklit to make you think. It's the story of an ordinary sixteen year old girl finding the courage to live according to her beliefs, despite the prejudice she encounters on the way. It's about friendship, faith and being true to yourself.
Amal's story is a very personal one, and in my opinion that's one of the novel's main strengths. Amal is just one character, and the book makes it very clear that she can't possibly represent every Muslim girl in the Western world. In Amal, Randa Abdel-Fattah has created a protagonist it's impossible not to like - determined, witty and occasionally given to those attacks of self-doubt that we all go through. She's the kind of character who'll make you boil with shared frustration one minute and choke yourself laughing the next. There's also the potential for the occasional tear, particularly during the scenes where Amal attempts to befriend her elderly next-door neighbour. Don't let the upbeat opening fool you - this book is certainly laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it also has real emotional and intellectual depth.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is its treatment of Amal's relationship with her crush Adam. There's a great spark between them and the way that their friendship develops is natural and believable. Before I knew it, I was rooting for the two of them to get together and very nearly forgetting the conflict that this would cause with Amal's religious beliefs about relationships before marriage. I don't want to give too much away about how this storyline unfolds, but I will say that it's as bittersweet as it is thoughtful.
Ultimately, it's the message within this novel that will ensure it has a lasting impression on those who read it. It's never preachy, and Randa Abdel-Fattah addresses the issues at hand with a light and engaging touch. There's a scene in the story where Amal is turned down for a part-time job - despite having relevant experience - because her hijab means that as far as the guy hiring is concerned, her face doesn't fit. Although she feels the injustice of this, she still has faith that somewhere out there will be a person who won't judge her like that. A person who will look at her skills and qualifications first, and without prejudice. I think Does My Head Look Big In This? might just encourage readers to try to be that kind of person, no matter what race or religion they are. Above all else, it's hopeful, and that's got to be a good thing. I'd recommend it to anybody.