Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

With Sana Bakkoush – played by the effervescent Iman Meskini – recently announced as the main for Skam season four, as I’d so fervently hoped for back when I created my original Skam book tag, I wanted to immerse myself in some much-needed fiction told from the point of view of a Muslim hijabi girl as the main character. Does My Head Look Big in This? seemed to be the perfect starting point.

Set in Melbourne, Amal is a 16-year-old Australian-Muslim-Palestinian teen with all the usual obsessions about boys, chocolate and Cosmo magazine. She’s also struggling to honour the Islamic faith in a society that doesn’t understand it. The story of her decision to “shawl up” is funny, surprising and touching by turns.636219512759788439178163785_tumblr_ohgtdtguew1sp02wlo1_500(Fun fact: I started reading this right after having rewatched the above iconic episode in Skam season two, where the girls go to a remote cabin and Sana defies all their exceptions.)

  • Does My Head Look Big in This? started out incredible with following Amal’s decision to wear a hijab as a full-timer.” I particularly loved getting to read her thought process leading up to that moment:

“I’m terrified. But at the same time I feel like my passion and conviction in Islam are bursting inside me and I want to prove to myself that I’m strong enough to wear a badge of my faith. I believe it will make me feel so close to God. Because it’s damn hard to walk around with people staring at your “nappy head” and not feel kind of pleased with yourself – if you manage to get through the stares and comments with your head held high. That’s when this warm feeling buzzes through you and you smile to yourself, knowing God’s watching you, knowing that He knows you’re trying to be strong to please Him. Like you’re both in on a private joke and something special and warm and extraordinary is happening and nobody in the world knows about it because it’s your own experience, your own personal friendship with your Creator. I guess when I’m not wearing the hijab I feel like I’m missing out. I feel cheated out of that special bond.”

  • However, I quickly came to notice a number of problematic phrases thrown in here that rubbed me the wrong way, like describing someone angry as “psychotic” and the like. And I especially detested how this next conversation was handled:

“Anyway, back to your attempt to wear the hijab without the assistance of Revlon. I hate to disappoint you, but there are only a few women in this world who can get away with the natural look. Don’t you read New Weekly? “Stars without their make-up”, etc.? Hello? Do you have a big modelling contract you haven’t told me about? Are you co-starring in Brad Pitt’s next movie? If your answer to either of these questions is no, then go out and buy some cosmetic products this instant.”

I feel like Lilly Singh said it best when she talked about said topic:

  • Plus, I couldn’t for the life of me why understand why Amal was so infatuated with Adam Keane. To borrow Scaachi Koul’s superb phrasing, this boy was the epitome of “forgettable, something that even now makes me think of warm, soggy bread, or crackers with the salt brushed off.” So when the book focused on those vapid white boys more than I liked, I was gone.5f6019a45220e3a2ffaa1497c1cc7852_if-i-could-be-a-meme-it-would-meme-guy-disappearing_540-538
  • Another thing I want to mention is that I feel like the author had this great opportunity of discussing body-image and taking care of oneself with Simone’s character, who’s described as: “incredibly self-conscious about her body. She doesn’t understand that it’s all in her mind. OK, so she’s not a size eight, can’t feel her ribcage and doesn’t have toothpicks for legs. She’s about a size fourteen and really voluptuous and curvy and gorgeous with big blue eyes, creamy, radiant skin and lips that look like she has permanent red lipstick on.” But that lesson of accepting yourself never really came… The only thing that came out of it was a lot of harmful and triggering sayings spewed, such as this next paragraph that made my head spin:

“Or I see all these model shoots of gorgeous beach babes with their bones poking into my hand when I turn the pages and I think, what’s the point? Even if I lost ten kilos and was in my weight–height ratio, people would still consider me fat. I wish I could become anorexic. How sick is that, huh? But I don’t have the self-control to live off a lettuce leaf a day. And I’ve tried the whole bulimia thing but I can’t even throw up. I’m just pathetic! Abnormal!”

… How is this in the final version of the book??? This ignorance and insensitivity consequently led to a lot of girl-on-girl hate while comparing herself to others. Speaking of which, those “mean girls” were never really given any characterization, so that blew off as well for me.

After all that I really tried giving this book multiple tries to impress me again, but I just kept getting disappointed time and again. So in the end I decided to give myself a break, in particular after reading this next horrible thing spit out of Amal’s mouth about her friend’s mom, who wouldn’t let her daughter leave the house to go shopping:

“I’m just about ready to report Leila’s mum to immigration.
Grounds for deportation: stupidity.
Alternative country: none. No nationality deserves her. Send her to Mars.”

I just… how do you rollback from that???

So unfortunately Does My Head Look Big in This? was a DNF around the half-way point for me.
In the meantime, however, you can catch me rewatching these two recently released Skam clips until season four is out there in the world:

(I’m still amazed by the usage of the song.)

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Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Does My Head Look Big in This?, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Lullabies by Lang Leav

“There is a certain quality to words that—when strung in a certain way—has an almost hypnotic effect.”

Lullabies was my second poetry read by Lang Leav, and save for a handful of excerpts, I was a bit let down. From what I recall of  The Universe of Us, it was an enchanting collection with a number of gems thrown in for good measure.

But the poems in this one, especially the few that tried to come of as witty or rhythmic, were puzzling and perplexing and just why…. Leav tries to tackle down poems “of hope and ecstasy, of tenderness and betrayal,” but in the end I was just left with little to no emotions. However, I did love the splendid illustrations featured in here:

And so instead of focusing on those aforementioned nonsensical pieces, I decided to share those rare quotes and poems that captured my heart for a hot minute:

Patience

“Patience and Love agreed to meet at a set time and place; beneath the twenty-third tree in the olive orchard. Patience arrived promptly and waited. She checked her watch every so often but still, there was no sign of Love.

Was it the twenty-third tree or the fifty-sixth? She wondered and decided to check, just in case. As she made her way over to the fifty-sixth tree, Love arrived at twenty-three, where Patience was noticeably absent.

Love waited and waited before deciding he must have the wrong tree and perhaps it was another where they were supposed to meet.

Meanwhile, Patience had arrived at the fifty-sixth tree, where Love was still nowhere to be seen.

Both begin to drift aimlessly around the olive orchard, almost meeting but never do.

Finally, Patience, who was feeling lost and resigned, found herself beneath the same tree where she began. She stood there for barely a minute when there was a tap on her shoulder.

It was Love.

…………………………….

“Where are you?” She asked. “I have been searching all my life.”
“Stop looking for me,” Love replied, “and I will find you.”

Little tales like the above ones are my Achilles’ heel.

And/Or

“I wanted everything because I didn’t want anything enough.”

Message in a Bottle

“We can’t see ourselves the way others see us.”

This piece me think a lot on whether that’s a good or bad thing. I’m still contemplating.

That Night

“It was one of those nights that you are not altogether sure really did happen. There are no photographs, no receipts, no scrawled journal entries.”

Three Questions

“What was it like to love him? asked Gratitude.
It was like being exhumed, I answered. And brought to life in a flash of brilliance.

What was it like to be loved in return? asked Joy.
It was like being seen after a perpetual darkness, I replied. To be heard after a lifetime of silence.

What was it like to lose him? asked Sorrow.
There was a long pause before I responded:

It was like hearing every good-bye ever said to me—said all at once.”

Poker Face

“There was a time I would tell you,
of all that ached inside;
the things I held so sacred,
to all the world I’d hide.
 
But they became your weapons,
and slowly I have learnt,
the less that is said, the better—
the lesser I’ll be hurt.
 
Of all you’ve used against me,
the worst has been my words.
 
There are things I’ll never tell you,
and it is sad to think it so;
the more you come to know me—
the less of me you’ll know.”

This haunting poem remains my favorite one. It was worth going through all of it, just to find this one shining gem.

Remembering You

“The day you left, I went through all my old journals, frantically looking for the first mention of you. Searching for any details I can no longer recall—any morsel of information that may have been lost to my subconscious. The memory of you is fading, a little at a time, and I can feel myself forgetting. I don’t want to forget.”

A Ghost

“Strange how it mattered so much,
when now it matters
so little.”


Overall, since my expectations were lower than low, Lullabies was a lot better than I was anticipating. It managed to hit my heart in a couple of places, so I’m glad I gave it my best shot.

3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Lullabies, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“The trouble with denial is that when the truth comes, you aren’t ready.”

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

“If our past selves got a glimpse of us now, what would they make of us?”

This book came so unexpectedly into my life, but I’m eternally grateful that it did so. There’s simply so much to love about We Are Okay that I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed writing this, but thankfully lists exist for me to break it down point by point:

  • We have a switching narrative between the past and future, which adds tremendously to the ongoing intrigue. Usually with books that have a similar structure, I struggle connecting with either the past or the present but that was not the case with We Are Okay. Far from it, actually. I kept switching my love for the chapters set in the past and those set in the present.
  • The author gets so many things right. From leaving your home and friends and childhood behind, to tackling loneliness, grief, friendship, f/f love, bisexuality, heartbreak, and talking about books and paintings, positive adult figures, and so much more. But I especially want to address how Marin’s broken longing felt so palpable. I could virtually feel her grief coming off the page, which is by no means an easy feat to achieve in writing.
  • Speaking of, LaCour’s words blew me off the page. I just loved how certain scenes drew a perfectly fitting picture in my mind.

Exhibit A:

“She leans over our table and turns the sign in the window so that it says CLOSED on the outside. But on our side, perfectly positioned between Mabel’s place and mine, it says OPEN. If this were a short story, it would mean something.”

I had to laugh at how witty that passage was.

And then hiding my smile at this gentle and still scene following at nighttime:

“So I turn over and find Mabel closer to me than I’d realized. I wait a minute there to see if she’ll move away, but she doesn’t. I wrap my arm around her waist, and she relaxes into me. My head nestles in the curve behind her neck; my knees pull up to fit the space behind hers.
She might be asleep. I’ll only stay here for a couple of minutes. Only until I thaw completely. Until it’s enough to remind me what it feels like to be close to another person, enough to last me for another span of months. I breathe her in. Tell myself I need to turn away.
Soon. But not yet.
“Don’t disappear again,” she says. “Okay?”
Her hair is soft against my face.
“Promise me.”
“I promise.”

My heart. These two have my heart.

  • The summer chapters are set in San Francisco, mainly at the beach, which is one of my all-time favorite locations.

“Tourists descended onto our beach, sat in our usual places, so we borrowed Ana’s car and crossed the Golden Gate to find a tiny piece of ocean to have for ourselves. We ate fish-and-chips in a dark pub that belonged in a different country, and we collected beach glass instead of shells, and we kissed in the redwoods, we kissed in the water, we kissed in movie theaters all over the city during matinees and late-night showings. We kissed in bookstores and record stores and dressing rooms. We kissed outside of the Lexington because we were too young to get in. We looked inside its doors at all the women there with short hair and long hair, lipstick and tattoos, tight dresses and tight jeans, button-ups and camisoles, and we pictured ourselves among them.”tumblr_oawgnvocw51qgt42uo7_500

  • And since Marin’s from San Francisco but moved to NYC for college, the winter chapters set for the perfectly gloomy and quiet atmosphere. And as this books mentions, “It was quiet, maybe, but it wasn’t simple.”
  • I loved the attention paid to details. You could tell how much the story meant to the author just by little things such as the names of the girls:

“Just different enough,” I said.
“As usual.”
Since we’d met, we had a thing for our names’ symmetry. An M followed by a vowel, then a consonant, then a vowel, then a consonant. We thought it was important. We thought it must have meant something. Like a similar feeling must have passed through our mothers as they named us. Like destiny was at work already. We may have been in different countries, but it was only a matter of time before we would collide into each other.”

  • And now that I’ve successfully circled back to my favorites, I have to talk about how stunningly earnest their relationship felt. We get to see them through all the stages: from strangers to friends to lovers to something more to something undefinable and then… And then going back and forth until they find their footing. It was everything I wanted and more. They’re so good for one another.
  • Like I wrote in my review for Queens of Geek, I live for books that write about girls. Girls supporting girls. Girls loving girls. Girls, girls, girls!!! And so this book fulfilled my heart while reading about Marin’s remarkable roommate and compassionate new boss and noteworthy best friend.

“I look at her. I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”

This is still one of the kindest things I’ve ever read. My eyes are burning again.

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  • Side note: the amount of times my eyes teared up while reading was low-key alarming. But it was like I couldn’t help it, especially towards the end. Like Marin said, “I was crying, trying not to cry.” We Are Okay is tragic and hopeful and morose and every adjective in the world that will help encompass the beauty of this story.
  • And last but not least, I delighted in the fact that the families played such a big part in this book. Specifically centering on Mabel’s Mexican-American family and how fervently they welcomed Marin with open arms. Ana and Javier are two of the kindest souls and made my heart swell more than once with their words and actions.

All in all: I’m beyond grateful that I picked this up on a whim because I don’t think I’ll find anything like it soon. But I know that I’ll look forward to any of Nina LaCour’s future works to come out.

P.S. This song felt really fitting for the mood this story is conveying (since it also mentions summertime and being seventeen and drinking whiskey). I listened to it on repeat until, to paraphrase this book, its sound turned to nothing.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying We Are Okay, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!