Does My Head Look Big in This? (2005) by Randa Abdel-Fattah is the story of sixteen-year-old Amal, a modern Palestinian-Muslim-Australian girl. Amal is hilarious, educated, beautiful and spunky, with open-minded parents and a deep commitment to her Islamic faith. The book begins when Amal decides that she wants to wear the hijab full-time. She isn’t sure what her new friends will say about her choice, fears the prejudices she may face in society, and is agonized by the idea that her strict private school won’t let her express her faith.
In this excellent little narrative, Amal chronicles the daily life of a Muslim teenager in a post-9/11 culture. In most ways, she’s an ordinary girl like any other – obsessed with clothes and fashion, sneaking in Cosmo magazines, crushing on boys, and going out for pizza and ice cream with her best friends. But there’s also a poignant multicultural element to her life, with her tight-knit family unit between her and her parents, their peaceful and wholesome observance of Islam, her Muslim friends and relatives, and how each adapts to being an Aussie Muslim differently. These scenes dispel many of the myths and misconceptions about Islam, and paint a beautiful tapestry of people you’d like to meet, celebrations you wish you were a part of, and food you’d love to taste.
Unfortunately, Amal encounters all variations of suspicion, discrimination and ignorance in the outer community, from trying to apply for a job to being bullied at school, and rejection by her crush for observing the tenets of her faith. But in the face of it all, Amal is strong and gutsy and speaks her mind, though without proselytizing or judging others. It’s refreshing to read about a young person so secure in her faith and identity. Amal wants to make it clear to the world that practicing Islam and wearing the hijab is *her* choice, and she is *not* oppressed.
I think my favorite part of the book was her unlikely friendship with the grumpy old Greek woman nextdoor. I read most of this story with tears in my eyes or running down my face, or else laughing out loud. If you love heartfelt stories about multiculturalism and religion, I strongly recommend this one!