Title: Ten Things I Hate About Me
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Level: 7th-10th Grade
Jamie is a 10th grader at a high school in Sydney, Australia. Like most high schoolers, she has the usual worries about boys and grades and being popular. Unlike most teenagers, she is also hiding a secret. For as long as she can remember, Jamie has hidden the fact that she is a Lebanese Muslim. Her real name is Jamilah, and she is afraid that if everyone at school knows that she is really a "leb" or "wog", as they call the Muslims in their community, her friendships and relationship prospects will be over. In the years following 9-11, it seems to Jamie that everywhere she goes she hears negative stereotypes about Muslims, and she experiences racism herself. Thing is, she loves being a Muslim, and is proud of her cultural heritage, even if it causes her father to be overprotective to the point of paranoia! When she makes an online friend named John, she unburdens herself, and shares all of her worries about her friends finding out her embarrassing truth. In the end, she has to make a choice-is it Jamie or Jamilah that she wants to be?
This book intrigued me because I could not remember reading anything like it before-the story of a Muslim dealing with the aftermath of the racial backlash after 9-11. I didn't realize at the time that the story was set in Australia, but that just made it more interesting to me. The fact that 9-11 had such a global impact was not news to me, but this was the first time I felt like I got a glimpse into how people in other countries reacted not just immediately after the event, but even years later.
I think that the story of Jamie/Jamilah is one that is at once uniquely Muslim and at the same time universal. I mean, we all deal with identity issues throughout our lives, but especially during adolescence. Each of us has something that makes us different, or at least that's how we feel. What makes the story uniquely Muslim is the fact that it is Jamilah's ethnic, cultural, and religious identity that is what makes her different. Most of us don't have to deal with being a religious/ethnic minority in addition to the other trials of adolescence, and most of us do not have to carry the baggage of Islamic fundamentalism as we move through life. Even with this fairly weighty subject matter, the book is easy to read, and the story is not preachy or too angsty. Jamie/Jamilah is an engaging character with a good sense of humor. The insights into her life as a Lebanese-Muslim are interesting, and show a culture rich in family tradition and love. Jamilah's over-protective dad is not portrayed as some woman-hating fundamentalist, but his character does provide insight into the clash of cultures that are inevitable when people emigrate to places with such different values. All in all, I think that the writing is excellent, and I would recommend this book to anyone looking to understand Muslim culture, or any teen working through their own identity issues.