Title: Ten Things I Hate About Me
Author: Randa Abel-Fattah
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Borrowed from the library at my school
From the cover:
Jamie just wants to fit in. She doesn’t want to be seen as a stereotypical Muslim girl, so she does everything possible to hide that part of herself. Even if it means pushing her friends away because she’s afraid to let them know her dad forbids her to hang out with boys or that she plays the darabuka drums in an Arabic band.
But when the cutest boy in school asks her out and her friends start to wonder about Jamie’s life outside of school, suddenly her secrets are threatened. Can Jamie figure out how to be both Jamie and Jamilah before she loses it all?
The main character of this book, Jamilah aka Jamie, is a Lebanese-Australian Muslim girl who lives with her father, older sister, and older brother (her mother died when she was very young). The jist of Ten Things I Hate About Me is that Jamilah doesn’t want the people at school to find out that she’s a “wog” – a discriminatory term for an immigrant – even though she was born in Australia. She doesn’t want them to find out anything about her, particularly not her background or about how strict her father is; even with her female friends, she never invites anyone over, and always makes last-minute excuses to bail out on plans so that she won’t have to admit that she isn’t allowed to go out after dark. Jamilah does this because she doesn’t want to be seen as a “stereotypical Muslim girl” who has a taxi-driver father and a super-strict curfew, even though these things are true. Aside from this, she also has a crush on the most popular boy in her class, and he is seriously racist against anyone who is Muslim or from the Middle East.
Jamie explains that this fear of being “found out” comes out of the way that she was treated when she was younger, when she would bring “ethnic” food to school for potlucks, and the other children, teachers, and parents would ridicule her:
They had their Vegemite and cheese sandwiches and chocolate wafers and white bread. I had kebabs and kofta and tabouli and pastries. Some of the other mothers laughed. I could smell their condescension. It smacked my nose like milk gone sour.
When there’s so much fear and misunderstanding and ridicule, why would anybody want to stand out? As well-meaning as Miss Sajda’s efforts may be, I’m not interested in being a hybrid identity. I’ve learned that the safest thing is to leave the kebabs at home and stick to white bread and Vegemite.
Miss Sajda is Jamilah’s teacher at Arabic school, as well as the sort of advisor for the band that she plays in. No matter what her older sister or Miss Sajda tells her, Jamilah is insistent that she never wants anyone to find out about her background. She fights with her father constantly, about curfew, friends, boys, a part-time job, clothes, and going to the prom, to name a few things. In the meantime, Jamie’s older brother smokes, drinks, and has refused to go to college, and her older sister is a hijab-wearing activist who marches in rallies and protests. Jamie feels, for most of the novel, that she is being treated unfairly, particularly in comparison to her brother, and her father agrees – while also saying that this is on purpose, because girl’s reputations are harder to keep unsullied than those of boys’.
I could really sympathize with Jamie’s character for most of this book, because I could see in her the types of things that I have heard of many Muslim and/or immigrant teenagers experiencing from peer groups. On the other hand, though, Ten Things I Hate About Me seemed rather cliched at times, really leaning on the idea of the hard-done-by younger daughter and the single, trying-so-hard father.
If you can get past that, though, this book really deals with a lot of important, interesting, and timely issues – and was a quick and entertaining read.
You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.