An Interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah, Author of Does My Head Look Big In This?
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
About this book
The first time I read Randa Abdel-Fattah's brilliant debut novel, Does My Head Look Big in This?, I knew Scholastic had to publish it. This book is a breakthrough — it not only gives a population that is typically unheard a voice, but it is also an immensely fun and engaging read.
When Amal, an Australian-Palestinian teenager living in a suburb of Melbourne, makes the biggest decision of her life, to wear the hijab, the Muslim headscarf, full-time, she is certain — well, almost certain — that she's ready to take this step. Amal is a sassy, intelligent, sensitive, and hilarious narrator, who, like most teenagers, wants to fit in, has a mad crush on a cute boy, can't quite figure out her outfits — should she match her veil to her shoes or her purse? — and is dealing with cliques and bullies, as well friends struggling with their own familiar adolescent issues. Amal's story brings us a delightful juxtaposition of the serious and the mundane, the Muslim and the Western, the sacred and the frivolous, all of which makes her such an attractive character and which gives this book its heart.
This book has tremendous merit, because it allows readers to see inside the head of a Muslim teenage girl, and because the dilemmas she faces, with enormous grace, are pertinent and, although culture-specific, they are ultimately universal and timely.
The contemporary Muslim teenage voice is one that has not been heard, but that desperately needs to be. And letting a protagonist who is true to her faith and true to herself speak is so important. Equally as important, I believe, is Ms. Abdel-Fattah's ability to convey to readers of all backgrounds that the details that so often separate us can-and should — be what brings us together. The clothes we wear, the songs we sing, the choices we make — these are what make us human, and the differences are what make life rich.
I am so proud to be publishing Does My Head Look Big In This? I hope you will enjoy it and find it rewarding, too.
What inspired you to write Does My Head Look Big In This?
Ranya: It became apparent to me that the only time Muslim females appeared as heroines in books were as escapees of the Taliban, victims of an honour killing, or subjects of the Saudi royalty! I wrote Does My Head Look Big In This? because I wanted to fill that gap. I wanted to write a book which debunked the common misconceptions about Muslims and which allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes — to realise that she was experiencing the same dramas and challenges of adolescence as her non-Muslim peers — and have a giggle in the process!
In Does My Head Look Big In This?, the central character Amal goes through some difficult experiences growing up. What did you find hardest about being a teenager?
Ranya: Body image issues. Trying to fit into the magazine ideal of feminine beauty. I hated the fact that a pimple or extra couple of kilos could make or ruin a person. That kind of stress was hard enough. But on top of that I also had to cope with the challenge of growing up Muslim in a society which misunderstands Islam so much.
Amal learns to cope with the prejudice and racism she experiences for being a Muslim by being quick witted and smart. Was this something you also had to cope with and if so, how did you deal with it?
Yes most certainly. I dealt with it by learning to control my temper when I was faced with a racist taunt and to build my own inner strength and confidence so that I wouldn't feel undermined if other people misjudged me. I used the negative to empower me.
Amal has some great friends at school but also experiences problems that will be familiar to every teenage girl, including a massive crush on a gorgeous boy! What was school like for you? Did you draw from your own experience when writing about Amal?
Ranya: School was great. Some of my best friends were boys and we remain friends until this day. I always felt like the boys were brothers to me. Attending an Islamic school, the bond between the guys and girls was strong and almost like a family.
As for Amal, when writing about her crush on Adam I stepped back into memory lane and drew on my own feelings when I had a massive crush on a guy at school.
You're a writer, a lawyer and a mother — you must be very busy! What's a typical day for you?
Ranya: A typical day for me is jamming 48 hours into 24. But I love all my roles so it's a pleasure! When writing I have my baby in a rocker under the desk. I type away and rock her to sleep with my foot! It doesn't always work though and I have to leave a scene midway to feed her.
Were any authors or books particularly inspirational to you?
Ranya: Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was a great inspiration.
And finally...we've heard you're a chocoholic! What's your favorite kind?
Ranya: Dark chocolate with almonds. YUM AND OH SO OFF LIMITS!
This interview has been provided by Scholastic Inc. It can be reprinted for publication either in full or excerpted as individual questions provided that they are reprinted in their entirety.