Does My Head Look Big in This?

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Does My Head Look Big in This? Book Poster Image
Muslim teen grows up, sees prejudice Down Under.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 11 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive messages

Amal must face several incidences of racial and religious prejudice and ignorance. Several mothers and girls worry about their weight and go on diets and one considers bulimia. Simone's mother suggests she start a crash diet so a boy doesn't lose interest in her. Amal and her friends get on boys' cases and insist they respect girls for their minds, "not their bra sizes." One 16-year-old girl's mother is "more interested in her getting a marriage license than a high school diploma"; her brother is verbally abusive to her. Amal and her friends skip school and serve detention as a result. Leila runs away from home when she can't handle her mother trying to marry her off anymore; Amal criticizes Leila's mother to her face.


In class, Amal's nemesis Tia brings up an article about Muslim girls being circumcised in Nigeria and asks Amal, "So are you, you know, whole down there?" Amal pushes Tia down when Tia insults her at a party. Leila runs away from home and stays at a women's shelter with women who had been raped, molested, or "beaten to a pulp by their boyfriends."


Some boys at school talk about porno movies they watched, loudly enough so girls can hear. Amal can't date boys and says, "I can still care and share with a guy without having to get physical with him." Regarding a kiss, she says she wants the "guy I spend the rest of my life with [to be] the first person I share something so intimate and exciting with."


"Bitch" and its slang variant "bi-yotch," "pissed off," "crap."


Teen magazines, TV and music references.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Teens drink at a party. Adam admits he smoked pot. Simone starts smoking as an appetite suppressant. After he caught her sneaking a cigarette, Amal's dad makes her smoke half a pack -- she doesn't want to smoke after that. Some residents at a women's shelter are described as "druggies clinging to their babies and desperate to shoot up."

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.

User Reviews

Parent Written bymdmuslima November 10, 2010

A unique POV

As a Muslim mom, who grew up in the west, much of the story is spot-on with what I've experienced. It's interesting to see how the main character walk... Continue reading
Parent of a 9 and 15 year old Written byMomaofkzkj September 20, 2010
Well written, explaining the difficulties that young Muslim women face in a very secular society. Also explains some of the misconceptions of the Islamic religi...
Teen, 13 years old Written byJen_Chen June 1, 2011
Teen, 14 years old Written byzerealevilcelery May 17, 2009

Great story.

I really enjoyed reading it. I liked that Amal developed pride for her hijab rather than taking it off as soon as she left school. Many contemporary books I... Continue reading

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.

Book details

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