Which is okay, actually, because it was far more the journey than the ending with this one. When the book gets returned I'll read the last chapter again, and that's fine.
Amal is a sixteen-year-old Australian-Palestinian Muslim. She attends a prestigious (and snooty) private prep school, gets good grades, has good friends, has a few enemies, and is deep in the throes of a crush on her chemistry bench partner Adam. And now she's decided to wear the hijab full-time.
And that's basically it, for a plot summary. What you will miss from that is just how engaging and smart and funny a narrator Amal is. This book is told in first person, and present tense -- which I almost didn't even notice. Once I did notice it was all present tense, I thought, "really?" and flipped back a couple of chapters, and sure enough, the entire thing is. It works perfectly -- it's like Amal and I are sitting and having a cup of tea and chatting and she's telling me this story. And I love Amal. She's a pitch-perfect teen: occasionally very immature, occasionally very mature, most of the time a regular teenager dealing with things in a teenager way. She has a wicked sense of humour and is sharply observant, but not preternaturally so. She's usually on top of a quick comeback if someone says something completely idiotic, although every once in a while she's struck speechless and ashamed, and that makes sense too, even if the reader desperately wants her to say something snappy and make the other person look like the idiot they are. She's an interesting mix of superficial and dramatic, and deeply convicted. Her voice made this story for me.
I picked the following short passage to quote because it was something I recognized. I'm not a teen anymore by any stretch, but I still do this to myself every once in a while:
I get so caught up in my daydream that my eyes start to go fuzzy and my skin all prickly. It's only when I feel my throat choking up that I snap back to reality.
There were a lot of quotable bits in this book. I meant to get more -- but then I gave the book to someone else.
I'd recommend this book just for Amal, and already have in some cases. But this book is a good read for more than that. Being someone who has no acquaintances who wear the hijab, my exposure to this particular religious garb is extremely limited. Actually, if we're honest, my exposure to anyone who is not Christian or agnostic or atheist is very limited, and the only people I know personally who dress or do things differently due to their religion are the Mennonites who frequent the library, and some of the Mennonite kids I went to school with. So just on that basis, this book was an eye-opening read for me, because I know so very little about Islam. It had never really occurred to me in any meaningful way that someone might wear the hijab because they wanted to; I always thought it was something that was expected of, perhaps forced on women by culture or tradition. Was I ever wrong. In some cases, of course, that is what happens -- but Abdel-Fattah attacks and shreds that particular notion in Amal's case. And I completely relished the whole experience of learning something new with this book, and (I hope) gaining a better understanding of an expression of faith that I had no familiarity with before.
And here: I was about to write "gaining a better understanding of a group" but thought better of it given that a lot of this book is devoted to making it clear that "groups" don't really exist in a way that can be generalized about. Even within communities identified by culture or tradition or religion or geography there can be major differences. And I know this, but it's easy to be lazy and generalize and I'm going to be even more on the lookout for that bad habit within myself now.
As one might expect, this book does occasionally drift into "issues" territory -- every once in a while there is a clear "that's not what Islam is about" moment or, in the case of one of Amal's friends, a lot of "thin is not equal to beauty." In these cases, sometimes the book edges from being fun and educational to being a bit preachy. But overall, this book avoids that territory quite well. And one thing that wasn't an issue, something I really, really appreciated, was Amal's relationship with her parents. Her parents are present, supportive, kind, intelligent, and they love Amal to bits. And she returns that. She has her typical teenage issues with her parents -- but it's really nice to see a teenager with a healthy, loving relationship with her family represented in a YA book.
I want to recommend this book to every teen girl I know. Some might be uncomfortable with the idea of the religious theme, but don't be: the execution is deft and I never felt like the book was trying to convert me. In fact, anyone of any religious feeling at all will almost certainly identify with Amal's struggles no matter what your denomination, and anyone with no religious feeling will not feel crowded. And if you're not a teen girl, read this anyway. You might find some of the drama a little over-the-top, but you might recognize your teen self in it; and you'll almost certainly end up looking at the world a little differently than you did when you started. It's not a perfect book, but it's a good one, and well worth the fun read.