'I've come from the place of go back to where you came from
From unmarked graves and stinking camps
From seas that wanted to swallow me
And prisons that wanted to disappear me
From places other people will travel to
With travel blogs, and itineraries highlighted in fluorescent Sharpies,
and Instagram accounts that show how they "found themselves"
In places some people are allowed to visit
While others are never allowed to leave.
The exotic are a short drive up the road
Postcodes vending an experience of elsewhere
But without the frequent flyer points and itinerary
They are just ghettos
When you feel like a dandelion
Just a wish from being blown away
When you feel like a spice
Just a sprinkle of flavour to your taste
When you feel like a souvenir
In a bazaar of identity that peddles fear
That you must carve yourself out of resistance
But then some people showed me:
That anger is good
But with action it is better
That remembering is good
But with hope it is better
That change is good
But with discovery it is better
That questioning is good
But with trust it is better
That resisting is good
But sometimes those you resist do not matter
And that standing up is good
But standing up alongside others is better.'
Follows the interactions between an Afghani refugee and the son of the leaders of a burgeoning political party against immigration ‘queue jumpers.’
Michael meets Mina at a protest and later realises they share classes as school. As they clash, Michael learns that he doesn’t have to believe what his parents teach him, and that Mina faces certain persecutions just by being a non-Australian. To be honest, the book is quite light on plot, it’s mostly dedicated to the romance the two share, and Michael’s character arc. For some unknown reason they keep their relationship a secret.
There’s not much to say about Mina. She doesn’t really have a character arc. She’s mostly there to be the sympathetic boat person who teaches Michael that he can have independent thought. She’s smart and competitive enough for a scholarship to a prestigious college and her life is filtered through her experiences as a refugee, arriving in Australia by boat and spending time in detention before granted a refugee visa. She’s a very sympathetic character.
Michael is the other protagonist, and he starts out uncertain if he supports his parents beliefs in ‘Aussie Values’. Unfortunately his parents have quite a skewed world view and believe, for example, that if Mina attends Victoria College, her parents must be rich, when in reality they aren’t and Mina attends on a scholarship. Michael learns not to jump to these same conclusions, such as if a refugee can afford passage on an illegal boat, they can’t be that poor and shouldn’t be trying to leave their own country. I really would have liked the argument raised against Michael’s parents view that most illegal immigrants are Westerners (from the UK/US etc) overstaying their visas, not asylum seekers looking to ‘jump the queue’, but this didn’t happen. Instead it mostly tried to dispel the belief that refugees jump some kind of imaginary queue.
I did have a bit of trouble differentiating between both the characters’ voices. They sounded almost identical. I kept having to flip back to the start of the chapter to check the name.
One of my favourite things was watching how the media loved to hype everything up and then not declare a side. Journalistic integrity is something of the past. The media fuelled the hate more than the political organisation did.
One issue I had with the book was right at the end, Mina says about Michael, "He's taught me to never give up on anybody.” I found it hugely hypocritical that Terrence didn’t get the same treatment, especially since he and Michael started out at the same place, although Terrence was vilified throughout the whole novel and Michael wasn’t. Everyone ended up giving up on Terrence, even his long-time crush.
The pacing was pretty good – at least, I enjoyed the book a lot, thought about it when I wasn’t reading it, and was dead keen to get back to reading it. Despite its lack of real plot, the conflicts moved the narrative forward and I felt like the pace was kept high – I never knew what was around the corner and I was eager to find out.
Although light on plot, this book explores a very serious and timely conflict for Australians and other people living in privileged parts of the world. I never felt like I was being preached to by either side of the debate, although it was obvious whose side we were meant to be on, and I found Michael’s parents and their organisation to be more of an excuse for the more radical characters to act out. Although Mina didn’t change all that much, Michael had a fantastic character arc coming to terms with his own beliefs. I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to other contemporary YA lovers.
I received this book for free from Pan MacMillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
While this book is far from perfect, I appreciate what the author attempted to do. In the book, a teenager fights against ignorance and stereotypes regarding Islam and Muslim identity. Facing issues such as mistaken oppression, the freedom of choice, and flat-out racism, I think this was a good starting point to educate audiences from a young age. I also liked that customs such as wearing the hijab, daily prayers, and Ramadan were included in the text to open the reader up to more information regarding Islam as well as some of the issues Muslim immigrants face such as assimilation and varying interpretations of the religion.
However, a lot of the events felt unrealistic, and willing suspension of disbelief aside, many of the fights and conversations seems unnatural and awkward.
Secondly, the language was surprisingly hypocritical. While the main character expects everyone to accept her choice to wear the hijab as a symbol of her faith, she sure criticizes people a lot. Slut shaming and skinny shaming remarks abound in almost every interaction with females outside of her friend group. With comments like, "They look like they need U.N. aid. One dollar a day. Let's sponsor them" (84) regarding a group of girls the friends see at a restaurant and jokes about eating disorders, it was difficult to view the characters as spokespeople of acceptance of all people. Even within the group of friends, body acceptances issues emerge and it is clear through many fat shaming remarks that females bodies are supposed to look a certain way, regardless of if they are wearing a hijab or not.
So I think the intentions of the author were good and she accomplished many things such as educating young readers about Islam in a way that is interesting, but at the same time reinforces high-school priorities of physical appearances along with slut shaming, skinny shaming, and fat shaming. A lot of the text relies on stereotypes and misguided assumptions. Also, as centric as the hijab was, not a lot of information was given on it regarding why it is a symbol of faith. The main character just calls it a symbol of faith and leaves it at that.
This book is a good start to acceptance and multiculturalism, but is still greatly lacking in some areas.