Abdel–Fattah, Randa 1979-

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Abdel-Fattah, Randa 1979-

PERSONAL:

Born 1979, in Australia; father a senior aeronautical engineering research scientist, mother deputy director of the Australian International Academy; married; children: one daughter. Education: King Khalid Islamic College (now Australian International Academy), International Baccalaureate. Religion: Muslim.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

CAREER:

Lawyer, human rights activist, and writer.

MEMBER:

Law Society of New South Wales, Australiasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the Coalition for Peace and Justice in Palestine.

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

Does My Head Look Big in This?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Ten Things I Hate about Me, Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Randa Abdel-Fattah drew on her own life experiences to write her first novel, Does My Head Look Big in This? The story concerns Amal, a girl of Middle Eastern heritage who is born in Australia. Amal's family is moderate in the way they observe their faith. Abdel-Fattah grew up in similar circumstances, and like her novel's protagonist, during her teen years the author decided to wear the traditional Muslim head scarf, or hijab, at all times instead of only when going to the mosque. She did so from the age of thirteen until the age of seventeen, when she realized that her decision was going to have an impact on her ability to find work. Amal's struggle with her cultural identity forms the core of the book, but it is also the story of many of the challenges faced by all teens, including issues with the opposite sex, friends, and fashion.

Abdel-Fattah's parents are of Palestinian and Egyptian background. She was first educated at a Catholic school, where she was curious enough about the rites of that religion to go into the confessional at church and confess to the priest that she was a Muslim. When she began wearing the hijab, she experienced racism much as Amal does in Does My Head Look Big in This? "I had people spitting at me or yelling out ‘Terrorist wog’ or people yelling things at me from passing cars," she said in an interview with Steve Austin and Julie Thomson for ABC Queensland. In the book, Amal faces similar taunts, but she is able to stand firm in her resolve to keep wearing the hijab, supported by her genuine faith and also by a group of friends who all consider themselves to be out of the norm, whether because they are Japanese, Jewish, self-conscious about their bodies, or labeled as "nerds." Amal is particularly challenged, as the author was, by anti-Arab feeling in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Despite her often weighty subject matter, the author keeps the book moving along in an entertaining style by "using a winning mix of humor and sensitivity," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Lisa Ann Sandell, commenting on the book on the Scholastic Web site, called it a "brilliant debut," adding: "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." Kathleen E. Gruver, a reviewer for School Library Journal, found Amal an "appealing and believable" girl. Another reviewer, Hazel Rochman, wrote in Booklist: "More than the usual story of the immigrant teen's conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere." The book's wide appeal was also noted by Lianne George, who wrote in Maclean's: "Alternately sweet and mortifying, it's a typical Judy Blume-style teen confessional, only with an ‘Are you there, Allah, it's me Margaret’ kind of twist…. More than anything, the novel is a witty exploration of the various challenges and misconceptions that underpin a Muslim girl's decision to don the hijab."

In Abdel-Fattah's second novel, Ten Things I Hate about Me, the author presents a situation that is almost the reverse of the one presented in her first book. Ten Things I Hate about Me is about a Muslim Lebanese teenager living in Sydney, Australia who finds her heritage confusing and embarrassing. Her school is full of racial tensions, which she hopes to avoid. Consequently, she tries to fit in by assimilating with the mainstream culture at her school. She adopts an Anglicized version of her Arabic name, dyes her hair, and wears blue contact lenses to change her eye color. Told in the from of e-mails, the book is "all about how you can find yourself if you're true to yourself," said the author in her interview with the ABC Queensland Web site.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklinks, September 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 9.

Booklist, July 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 60; November 15, 2007, interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah, p. 54.

Bookseller, February 17, 2006, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 40.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2007, Karen Coats, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 4.

Children's Bookwatch, August, 2007, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?

Entertainment Weekly, April 20, 2007, Tina Jordan, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 69.

Horn Book Magazine, July 1, 2007, Lauren Adams, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 389.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?.

Kliatt, May, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 5.

Maclean's, May 14, 2007, "R U There. Allah? A New Muslim Young-Adult Novel Is Judy Blume with a Twist," p. 58.

Magpies, November, 2006, Sally Harding, review of Ten Things I Hate about Me, p. 39.

New York Times Book Review, September 16, 2007, "Children's Books," p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2007, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 56.

School Librarian, winter, 2006, Robert Dunbar, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?

School Library Journal, June, 2007, Kathleen E. Gruver, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 138.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2007, Carlisle K. Webber, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?, p. 233.

ONLINE

ABC Queensland Web site,http://www.abc.net.au/ (August 18, 2005), interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Asian in Media,http://www.asiansinmedia.org/ (June 2, 2006), Tanzeel Akhtar, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?

Blurb,http://www.theblurb.com.au/ (Issue 57), Michele Perry, review of Does My Head Look Big in This?

Inside a Dog,http://www.insideadog.com.au/ (February 14, 2008), interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah.

Readers without Borders,http://www.readerwithoutborders.com/ (April 29, 2007), review of Does My Head Look Big in This?

Scholastic Web site,http://content.scholastic.com/ (May, 2007), Lisa Ann Sandell, interview with Randa Abdel-Fattah.

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Abdel–Fattah, Randa 1979-

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