Friday, 21 March 2008

Does my head look big in this?

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS? Randa Abdel-Fattah, Pan, 340pp, paperback,
ISBN 0-330-42185-9

What could be more topical than a novel about a teenage Australian-Muslim-Palestinian? What could be more exciting than finding that Does My Head Look Big In This? not only has spiritual depth but is also tremendously witty. When Amal uses the confessional to tell the priest at her Catholic school that she’s Muslim, he responds, “Five Hail Marys and five of the Lord’s Prayer.”

Her decision to wear the hijab headscarf, full-time, at her new school provides the narrative thread of a bright account of home and school life in modern Melbourne. Whether she’s describing her friends, foes or cautiously supportive parents (both born in Bethlehem), Amal shows the real humans behind those ‘bloody confusing identity hyphens.’ Dad compensates for his receding hairline with a red convertible, while Mum is so obsessive about cleaning that she dusts the light-bulbs.
Amal’s relationships with her puzzled classmates (including Adam, a Jewish boy) enable this novel to cover a wide range of issues, perhaps too many for one novel, but this is still the year’s best novel about friendship under pressure.

Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand.

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