Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: Does My Head Look Big In This? – Randa Abdel-Fattah

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

When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, her entire world changes, all because of a piece of cloth . . . 
Amal makes the decision to start wearing the hijab full-time and everyone has a reaction. Her parents, her teachers, her friends, people on the street. But she stands by her decision to embrace her faith and all that it is, even if it does make her a little different from everyone else. 
Can she handle the taunts of "towel head," the prejudice of her classmates, and still attract the cutest boy in school?

Review: I feel terrible for not liking this book. I should like it. The young adult literature world is in desperate need of books that show religion in a positive way. Not all religious people are wackadoodles. This novel does show sane religious teenagers, but . . . I didn’t like it.

The story is set in 2002, when Islamophobia is at a high in Australia. The narrator, Amal, is a Muslim Palestinian-Australian. She’s a typical teenager who gets good grades, is popular at school, and is obsessed with celebrities and her appearance. But, her life changes when she decides to dedicate herself to her faith. She starts wearing a hijab and dressing modestly. This causes everyone in her life to lose their minds for reasons I don’t fully understand.

Let’s start with the awesome things about this book. I learned a lot about Islam and what it’s like to be the only Muslim in a school full of Christians and Jews. The novel discusses the differences between religion and culture. People from different cultures can practice the same religion in different ways. The book also shows that one Muslim can’t speak for all Muslims. People expect Amal to explain the motives of Islamic terrorists, but she doesn’t understand them any better than anybody else does. In her eyes, the terrorists aren’t Muslims because her religion forbids murder.

I like that Amal isn’t perfect. She’s hot-tempered and vain. She makes bad decisions and bullies other girls. She’s a (somewhat) realistic teenager who’s trying her best to live according to her religion, but she makes mistakes. Sometimes, the mistakes are big.

“What’s the good of being true to your religion on the outside, if you don’t change what’s on the inside, were it really counts?” – Does My Head Look Big in This?

Do you remember when you were a kid, and your teacher tried to turn lessons into games? The games were supposed to be fun, but they weren’t because you were too aware that the game was educational? That’s how I felt while reading this book. It’s poorly written. Everything in it is very carefully constructed to teach the reader about Islam.

Almost all of the characters are caricatures. They exist for educational purposes. There’s the ultra-traditional family who only cares about getting their daughter married. There’s the immigrant family who’s so desperate to fit in that they fill their house with Australia-themed knick-knacks. There are stereotypical bullies and vapid hot guys. The teenagers can’t say more than 5 words without referencing pop culture. It all feels forced and unrealistic.

The plot and dialogue are also problematic. The characters give long speeches to each other about religion, and there isn’t really a plot. Amal just obsesses over a boy and encounters situations where she has to defend her faith. It’s contrived. In some cases, I didn’t even understand the Islamophobia.

For example, when Amal wears the hijab to school for the first time, everybody freaks out. I’m not entirely sure why. Amal has been going to this school for a year, and it’s not a secret that she’s Muslim. If her classmates are curious/confused/concerned about her sudden change in appearance, why don’t they ask her about it? Why does a hijab make them weird and cagy when they accepted Amal before? I’m not saying that this is unrealistic. I just don’t get it.

This book is important. Like I said, we desperately need novels like this. I just wish it wasn’t so heavy-handed. Books can be educational without force-feeding the reader information.


  1. I don't think you should feel terrible for not liking a book, even though it's a diverse one. We want diversity, but that doesn't mean we'll end up liking every diverse book. There are many other factors that need to be done well too...

    I have this book on my to-read list, and I'd only seen raving reviews on it, so I find your review really interesting! I do understand what you're saying about not getting why the classmates are suddenly so weird about it. If they knew she's Muslim, why would it be a surprise? Why didn't they just ask? I'm actually even more interested in reading it now, so I can see what I think of it.

    Great review!

  2. I understand what you're saying! There should've been an entertainment value to the book, otherwise just write a nonfiction or memoir. If you hit young adults over the head with lessons to learn, they will pull away in most cases. Sounds like a great plot and the problem seems to be in the execution of the plot.

    Thanks for highlighting this book anyway. It needs to be done more often... about books that have hidden sociological messages.

    1. Thanks! I have a huge problem with heavy-handed books. I get rebellious when I feel like an author is trying to educate me. I want entertainment from novels, not a school lesson.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  3. Bummer, sounds like the author wasted an opportunity by creating caricatures instead of characters :( I appreciate your honest. I've read too many books with glowing reviews only to discover the books weren't so great.

    1. Yeah. I saw tons of great reviews for this book, so my expectations were pretty high. I wanted more from the characters.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. It's a little disappointing when a book with an important theme falls short off the mark with its execution. I think it's great that you didn't let its flaws slide! I've wanted to read this for a while, and now I'm even more curious about it.