A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the Muslim main character, Amal, who lives in Australia, faces religious and racial prejudice, including kids on the playground who tell the "darkies" to go home. She gets frustrated trying to explain that every Muslim is not a terrorist. The book addresses Islamic religious practices and customs, including misconceptions, and is very positive about the symbolism of the hijab that Amal decides to wear to school, emphasizing how empowered she feels wearing "this cloth [that] binds us in some kind of universal sisterhood." Amal doesn't drink or date boys, though other teens in the book drink and smoke.
What's the story?
Sixteen-year-old Amal exchanges IMs with a cute boy, chats with friends on her cell phone, reads Cosmo … and decides to wear a hijab, or Muslim head scarf, full-time, including to her elite private high school in Melbourne, Australia. Her friends, both Muslim and Christian, support her choice, but she still deals with negative consequences at school and in the community. Amal's close relationship with her parents contrasts with her friends': Leila's mother is determined to marry her off at 16; Simone's mom tells her to diet because she's fat; Adam's mother deserted him. With her attention-attracting hijab and her policy against dating, Amal tries to find the line between social acceptance and assimilation as she grapples with adolescence and her "hyphenate" identity as an Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl.
Is it any good?
Abdel-Fattah, who describes herself as "an Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian-chocoholic," gives voice to girls underrepresented in literature and the popular media. Readers will learn more about Islam's religious practices and beliefs, but to the extent that some dialog exchanges seem awkwardly set up in a question-and-answer format. Amal's behavior is full of contradictions as she learns that wearing the hijab is symbolic; She eventually realizes she must also change what's inside to truly reflect her religious values.
Western feminists may struggle with Amal's assertion that wearing the hijab is "liberation" from body-image issues. Readers of different faiths will admire her determination to be true to her beliefs and identify with her strong friendship bonds. Overall, it gives teens of every faith and background a great chance to see another perspective and discuss prejudice and identity.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about their own religious beliefs and their perceptions of people from other faiths. Was any of the background about Islam surprising? After a terrorist attack in Bali, a fellow student asks Amal to "explain to everyone why they did it and how Islam justifies it." Amal, in turn, asks if the Christian girl could explain the Ku Klux Klan, or the IRA, or "Israeli soldiers bombing Palestinian homes." Families can discuss how the media portrays followers of different faiths, especially in the wake of violence.