VERY IMPORTANT MERLIN THINKY THINGS
I just tortured everyone on Twitter by tweeting my reactions to this fic in real time, but I couldn't help it because it was seriously fabulous and amazing, and I have no idea why I'm not seeing it recced more. Seriously, this fic is 60,000 words of delicious torture and love, and also hilarious and angsty and smoothly drawn, and fraught with a subtle line of tension in a way that reminded me at times of Drop Dead Gorgeous. Please, go, read, give it love! ♥♥♥
I really enjoyed this! I had been looking forward to reading this book for a while because I am always on the lookout for quality Southern rural fantasy, especially Southern YA novels, and this one really did not disappoint me. 2 reasons why I was drawn to this book specifically:
- its plot is based around the disappearance of a teenage boy. the author lives in Southern Indiana and I kept thinking that maybe, just maybe, there were echoes of a famous local disappearance in our area around that time. I kept wondering if i could see glimpses of my community in the story. (I did.)
- Southern, rural, yes, but moreover, it's a ghost story - a very well-written one, too, a little dreamy, a little soft like the South itself. It's set in Louisiana, and from the first page you know that this isn't just another gothic New Orleans trope. It's deep-Southern rural, and the aftermath of Kristina is there but not prevalent. Instead it hangs over the entire novel like a faint reminder of illusions lost and travellers with no rest - a very, very fitting symbol for a ghost story.
- There was one piece of this novel's plot that didn't sit well with me, but overall I loved the writing and the sensibility of this book. The main character is a 14-year-old girl trying to come to terms with her family, her history, her sexuality, and herself, (imaginarycircus, she reminded me of your characters in that way), and that makes for standout, subtle tension in a book that's rife with it.
Please do give this one a read, guys - the only people I know who've read it so far are Ria and Maya, and I really really want to talk about the ending with someone! *tugs sleeves*
Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah.
I LOVED this book. Loved. Randa Abdel-Fattah is the Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egypt
Seriously, I started to make a list of things I loved about this book last week while I was reading it before I got through chapter two. I can't even tell you how refreshing it was to read a book where, AMONG MANY OTHER THINGS:
- 2/3rds of the cast is POC, let me just repeat that, there are very few white people in this book
- the Muslim main character and her family are firmly religiously devout but not fundamentalist
- she's a size twelve and totally comfortable with her body
- the guy she gets along with best at school is an orthodox Jew
- her circle of peers are mostly POC - her closest friends include two other Muslim girls her own age and one girl who is half-Japanese, plus the Jewish guy.
- one of the few white characters is an Orthodox Greek immigrant who struggles with her heritage and her immigrant status
- her family is as unstereotypical as it gets - her dad is described as a complete geek who listens to Kat Stevens. Her mother has a graduate degree but still goes shopping with her. They do things as a family like go out for sushi. Seriously, I cannot remember the last time in film or literature I saw a Muslim family do something as non-coded as go out for sushi.
- her closest white friend is a beautiful, witty blonde - who's also a size fourteen and struggles with size acceptance
Does My Head Look Big In This? is, in a nutshell, about a 17-year-old girl, Amal, living in Melbourne (authentically, lovingly described) who decides its time for her to go "full time" wearing the hijab, the Muslim head scarf. But that's distilling the spirit of this book, which is really more accurately a series of reflections from the different voices and experiences of its characters. I cannot even tell you how much this book moved me at different points, probably the most notable of which involved the old Greek immigrant telling her story, and our main character, Amal, fighting with her perceptions of cultural value and tradition and how they fit into her belief system.
This book definitely takes on religion as personal faith, which I absolutely love - but it's not a soapbox. Moreover, it does a crucial and fantastic job of a) explaining things about Muslim culture without being heavy-handed or browbeating and b) making the distinction between different Muslim cultures and the religious practice itself. There's one memorable scene where Amal tells how she has a somewhat clunky way of getting by while doing a traditional dance at a Muslim wedding, because every country has a different interpretation of the dance. That anecdote underpins a major theme of the story, which is the conflict and confusion between different facets of the Muslim community throughout the world, even as that community is vitally self-supporting.
I also want to note that I think the cover is absolutely wonderful. Again, with so much emphasis on the lack of control an author has over how their book is marketed, I want to note that this cover not only puts Amal's image directly in front of you (though, granted, it cuts off half her face), but also gets the detail of her head scarf right. In the book she's made to wear a maroon hijab to match her school uniform, and they made it maroon on the cover as well. I can't really explain why but that detail made me really happy, I think because it shows that this book has been treated with love by the editors and publishers, and I'm glad, because it's a great book.
The one potential criticism I have is that, ever wary of Mary Sue-ism as fandom has made me, Amal, who is a great character, comes across as so confident that I had trouble believing at times that she was made that insecure by her choice to wear the hijab. On the whole, though, the book addresses her overconfidence, and also her growth. In the beginning, she feels more comfortable and less sexualised fully covering her body, but still comes across as your average clothes-obsessed boy-crazy teenage girl. By the end, her faith has matured and so has she, and she is able to view herself, as we are, with a bit of an outside perspective.
That's the thing that clenched this book for me - authentic voices mixed with an openness and an honesty about the reception of "outsiders" into the communities they belong. Not just the Islamic experience, but the experience of things as universal as the immigrant experience to the high school misfit experience.
I am gushing about Does My Head Look Big In This? because it was wonderful, it was refreshing, and it spoke to me deeply coming on the heels of RaceFail. Abdel-Fattah's latest novel, Ten Things I Hate About Me, is out in hardback, and I can't wait to read it.
Also, I just want to note that I also have tried out The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry, and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
The latter I bought on a whim because praetorianguard said it was one of the best books she'd read in ages. And if I'd thought about it a bit more, I'd have realized it was not for me, because I hate hate hate battle royale, last-man-standing, dystopic war games-ish stories, with few exceptions (well, basically just one exception, Ender's Game, and I'm not even sure that counts as an exception when my love of the book has been so overshadowed by my abhorrence of the author). And, well - it was not for me. Apart from feeling like I was not going to enjoy the story for all the above reasons, the thing I absolutely could not get over was that the first major thing the dark-haired, dark-skinned protagonist did was volunteer to take a place in the games so that her pretty, blonde-haired, blue-eyed white sister would be safe. The ramifications were unavoidable, and I just couldn't really go with the book much further. I don't know if that is a useful critique, but it is how I felt.
As for the Amaranth Enchantment, Er. Well. I judged this book by its pretty pretty cover. And then found myself with a plot where the protagonist a) meets a Prince, b) meets an alien from another world who traveled here by falling through a well into another dimension, c) is given a priceless stone and then robbed of it by a random street urchin, and d) loses her home when her uncle dies, all in the same day. NOTE TO WRITERS. Please, in general, try to make sure that all of your seemingly random and unconnected events don't all happen within the same twenty-four-hour period.
And seriously, first Kyou Kara Mao and then Enchanted, then that amazing self-published novel where the time traveler's device was in the loo (sadly i lost the link), and now this - I've never heard of "water receptacles as portals to another world" as a trope before. Is this something common??? eta: doh! and i forgot Inuyasha! thanks, bitchypixii!
Or are we just being plagued by an odd trend of sewage systems gone wrong??