October 13th, 2013
Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
I recently bought this book due to my interest in reading contemporary stories featuring Muslim main characters, particularly women and teenagers. I am not Muslim myself, and don't see myself converting to the Islam faith, but I love reading about characters with different faiths and lifestyles. To be honest, I don't see many differences from faith to faith, so why not diversify my reading with characters who are faiths that are not my own(FYI, for now Im Agnostic, but I feel as though faith may guide me towards Buddhism).
Now, Ten Things I Hate About Me? Hmmm....This book was just alright. It centered around an Australian born 15 year old named Jamilah Towfeek. Her parents were originally from Lebanon, and are Muslim. Apparently Australia hasn't quite got the memo when it comes to diversity, so anything outside of being Anglo-Saxon Australian was considered un-Australian. Since Jamie lived her school life as "Jamie" and dyed her hair blonde, and wore blue colored contacts, she gave no reason for her fellow Anglo-Saxon classmates to judge her in the same ways they judged the students who were "ethnics."
A lot of this book made me uncomfortable. It's well written, and depicts a teenager as accurate as I remember being one, but the racism is quite ugly, and it's sad that the youth is brought up with such hate, even now. Explaining what I liked and wasn't sure about would be much easier.
What I liked:
I felt as though the pacing is good, short books tend to be better at pacing than longer ones. It didn't reveal information too soon or too late, so that was a thumbs up. I suppose it's consistent. Jamilah doesn't really steer far from being the kind of girl she is. The backstory is well thought out, and not too much is revealed too soon and the story doesn't take too much time dwelling on backstory.
There's plenty of conflict. Jamilah is someone who deals with racism indirectly, as her classmates know nothing about her heritage. It's kind of sad, but she would rather sit and take abuse, than be true to herself. She also is in a constant battle with her father. He does not approve of her doing certain things. To me he's the standout character. I loved Hakim. He was a grieving widower having to pick up the where his wife left off in raising his children. Jamie often thought he was being strict, but what good parent isn't a little overprotective? Too much of Western culture is centered on sex, drugs, and alcohol, I dont think it's asking too much to want to shield your children from negativity. Let's face it, kids are doing it, but I don't think it's wrong of a parent for wanting the best for their children.
I do think the book is unique, or at least to me. I don't read a lot of books centered on Muslim teenage girls. Especially from Australia.
I don't find there to be many issues toward the language, but I'm American, so anything I read Im going to assume to be difference in dialect or lack of knowledge or cultural awareness. Jamilah's in a band at her madrasa class(Arabic class) and her bandmates are overly exaggerated hip hop fans. Their dialogue may just be a result of thinking that's how Americans talk. Her POV is clear, as it's first person and never steers from that. There's an acceptable amount of space between beats and dialogue, and the editing is an industry standard.
The book title is intriguing. Makes me wonder what the ten things are. And the cover gives me an idea that she's going through an identity crisis.
Things Im not crazy about:
While there is plenty of diversity, and I mean main character type diversity, Jamilah herself is so ashamed of her heritage in the company of Anglo-Saxon descended Aussies. So much of her opinion on herself, and other non Anglo-Saxoned Aussies comes from the opinion of the so called "real" Australians." Let's not put sugar on shit. I hated her crush. He was chauvinistic , racist and too arrogant for his age or own good. But I think I actually hated Jamilah more for taking the abuse. Culture and race is kind of where a person like me draws the line. She's relatable but only when she's proud of herself. I don't suppose her passing for "white" is a new story. To be honest, I've never considered the Lebanese to be anything but white, so Im confused about why it's seen as so negative. I suppose perhaps it's common to be considered white in one country, then to immigrate to another and be considered a different race, but she was so eager to not be a "loser" that taking the backhanded racism came with her passing.
It really didn't raise the self esteem of young Muslim girls to me. Mind you this is just my opinion, but I never felt as though Jamilah reached her epiphany on how to see herself. She didn't come to any conclusion on her own, she only came to decisions after many tried to convince her to feel that way. She was also so un-appreciative of her father. Perhaps this is a bias of mine. I have such a great appreciation for immigrant parents. They often sacrifice their own happiness for better opportunities for their children, and Jamilah just didn't see that.
I think I kind of liked this book. I didn't love it, but didn't hate it. I would probably read from this author again, but I just didn't find it was a great representation of proud Muslim young women.
I dont know many actors of Lebanese descent =/ I pictured a brown girl, much like actress Mandeep Dhillon.
I would have to really dig deep to picture the rest of the characters. They all seemed pretty average and run of the mill to me.