My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My first thought about Does My Head Look Big In This? was, “It’s Looking for Alabrandi for a new generation.” That impression may have more to do with the narrator of the audiobook version I listened to using the same wide-eyed tone that characterised the reader of the audiobook version of Alibrandi. Still, the similarities don’t end there. Both books have young, female protagonists who, simply because of their cultural and religious backgrounds, have no option but to think about their place in the world. Unlike the predominantly Anglo-Australians each girl goes to school with, they’re required to move between two worlds as often as they go to school and return home each day.
In this book, the central character, Amal, makes the decision to become a full-time wearer of the hijab. Her parents are concerned about the response she will attract from her school and friends, while her school and friends demand to be reassured her parents haven’t forced her to wear the hijab against her will. Inevitably, perhaps, Amal becomes representative of Islam and every act done in its name; consequently, she is required by non-Muslims to explain the atrocity of events like the Bali bombings and, to the well-intentioned, be a spokesperson and educator on her religion.
First published in 2005, I think this might be an early attempt in young adult literature to help young people explore issues of religious identity in a post-September 11 world. In Australia, the Bali bombings, which are featured in the novel, would have added a particular urgency to the need for this kind of discussion. Certainly, there’s a sense that Abdel-Fattah wrote a list of the most common expressions of ignorance and bigotry towards Muslim-Australians and incorporated them into the experiences of Amal, her friends and family. It feels quite jam-packed and sometimes didactic. That said, Does My Head Look Big In This? has made me curious about other books from the perspectives of other western Muslims.