Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ten Things I Hate About Me

Biblio Bits Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Orchard Books, 2009 (ISBN 9780545050555). Originally published in Australia in 2006.

Reading Level/Interest Age 720 lexile/Ages 13+

Genre Realistic Fiction

Plot Summary
Sixteen year-old Jamie is just your typical Aussie teenager: bleach-blonde hair, blue eyes, and now she's attracting the attention of Peter, one of the most popular boys in her school. She should be psyched about this social upgrade, right? Sure, except for Jamie is really Jamilah, an Australian of Lebanese descent who is a practicing Muslim (and sometimes wears colored contact lenses). Her dad forbids her to go out at night, her sister is a political activist who wears the hijab, and she has to attend Arabic school on the weekends. Since her mother died suddenly, Jamie's dad has become even more protective of her. Jamie has made the choice to hide her cultural identity in favor of blending in: she doesn't want the negative attention that she would get if she "came out" as who she really is. Jamie has never even told her closest friends about her secret. When racial tensions are running high at school, after the anti-Arab riots (based on true events of 2005), Jamie is as uncomfortable as ever in her assumed identity as racist comments fly among her peers.

Critical Evaluation
This title follows Abdel-Fattah's debut young adult novel, Does My Head Look Fat in This? (2007). As with her previous work, the multi-cultural lessons feel a bit overstated sometimes. While the author does a good job raising the issues, somehow the delivery falls a little flat: characters are either stereotypes or deliberately NOT stereotypes, they are pretty one-dimensional, and the plot development is predictable. The book feels needlessly over-long and creates a weaker impact since the essence of the story is distilled over more pages. That being said, this could be a powerful book for any tween who is contemplating their own identity, religious, cultural, or otherwise; what came off to me as rehashing of the same angst, could be just the right tone for a tween in a similar situation. We have all been in social situations in which we have obscured parts of ourselves, or in situations when another person's beliefs have been offensive; these are the universal themes of the book that will ring true for all readers.

Reader's Annotation
Jamie or Jamilah? Caucasian Australian or Lebanese-Australian? Jamie finds it easier to "pass" as a white in her racist high school. But when she continuously hears racist comments from her friends, will she dare to stand up to them?

Author Information
Randa Abdel-Fattah is an Australian of Egyptian and Palestinian heritage. She is a twenty-seven year-old lawyer who is married, with a young daughter. Abdel-Fattah grew up in Melbourne and now lives in Sydney. She is active in her local interfaith council and serves as a member of the Australian Arabic Council. Abdel-Fattah received Autralia's Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers for this, her second, book. (Information for this author biography is from the book jacket, Wikipedia, and here.)

Challenge issues
Violent race riots and gang-rape are referenced. While nothing is explicit about this latter issue, it might raise further questions in readers.

Booktalking Ideas
This title would be a natural book to include in a booktalk about differences and how characters choose to deal with their own differences from the dominant culture. This could easily branch into questions of sexual identity, as in Parrotfish (Wittlinger, 2007) or My Most Excellent Year (Kluger, 2008). The theme of living with your own differences could even cross into various genres, including the supernatural books that are so popular (How do you blend in as a teen werewolf?), or into fantasy/sci-fi books like The Angel Experiment (Patterson, 2005). I would focus on the hidden identity part of this book of living a double life, and what that means in day-to-day life for Jamie/Jamilah.

Curriculum Ties
For older middle-school students this would be an interesting book to bring up in a social studies discussion about the historical context of "passing." Particularly in the post-Civil War era and the early 20th century, this phenomenon was common in the U.S. Discuss what this really means. Why would someone choose to do this? What is gained/lost? What does it mean for a person's family and extended family? Imagine a family in which a lighter-skinned sister chose to pass, while her darker-skinned sister doesn't have that option.

Why this book?
I was curious about where this author would go next, having read her first YA novel last year.

Oprah's Kids' Reading List, ages 10-12; Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers, 2008.

Rockport Public Library owns?

No comments: