Does My Head Look Big In This?

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? (2005). 360 Pages. Scholastic. $16.99

Previously, I reviewed Ten Things I Hate About Me, which has turned out to be my most popular blog post (ever), with an average of 10+ hits a day. It’s unexpected, and surprising, and I wish I knew what the readers were looking for when they came across that post. Regardless, it was a brilliant, funny book which was really enjoyable to read, so right after getting through it, I opted to find her debut novel; Does My Head Look Big in This?. I’m glad I did.


Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim, a sixteen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim has decided to go “full time” and wear the hijab. She’s not sure what made her choose to do something so dramatic; high school is hard enough without wearing your stigma on your head. It’s not an easy decision, rather, she’s spent a long time thinking about it, and has finally decided that it’s the right step for her.

As Amal dons the scarf, she learns a lot about herself, her friends, and her family. She doesn’t learn so much about her enemies, she already knew they sucked, after all. With the scarf comes an intensified devotion to her religion; previously, she had skipped midday prayers, since she was at school, but with the hijab comes the extra prayers.

With the increased devotion, Amal sticks closer to some other rules, most notably those about dating. She’s got a strict drool but don’t touch policy about guys, which gets harder and harder to follow as she realizes just how much she likes Adam, her science partner. Somehow, Amal will get through it all, and when she does, she’ll be stronger than ever.

First Lines

It hit me when I was power walking on the treadmill at home, watching a Friends rerun for about the ninetieth time.

It’s that scene when Jennifer Aniston is dressed in a hideous bridesmaid’s outfit at her ex’s wedding. Everyone’s making fun of her and she wants to run away and hide. Then she suddenly gets the guts to jump onstage and sing some song called “Copacabana,” whatever that means. I’m telling you, this rush of absolute power and conviction surged through me.


Amal is exactly the smart, sassy, determined narrator that a story like this needs. She knows what she wants, and will do what it takes to get there, even when the going is tough, and someone with a lesser will would have already given up. She worries a bit about being a walking stereotype, the weak girl in the hijab whose parents have forced her (though not as much as Jamilah, despite sharing the post-9/11 setting).

There’s a lot going on, there’s Amal’s story, but also the stories of her friends, especially  Leila, the daughter whose parents are more interested in marrying her off than her education, and Simone, whose parents call her fat, and who has major body issues. Her other female friends, Yasmeen and Eileen are quieter, their stories never come to the forefront. Then there is Adam– Amal’s crush– and Josh– Simone’s crush– who add another interesting dimension to the high-school drama and angst which Amal struggles with.

Amal manages to be deeply and securely religious without it being a barrier between her and the reader, because at the heart of everything, she’s a normal teenager dealing with normal struggles, and that makes her so perfectly relatable and human that you can’t help liking her. You want her to succeed, because she wants to succeed, and you want her to be happy, and to find herself on this journey she’s undertaken.

While reading it, at one point, Amal’s father says he will “dial 911. Not your cell phone. 911” (83), which immediately made me wonder how much they had Americanized in this edition. Does she really talk about Friends, and Survivor, and Big Brother, or does she talk about Australian equivalents which got replaced when they were brought to the US?

This book gets a 5/5.


Further Thoughts…

There is mention of 9/11, and then there is mention of the October 2002 attack in Bali, which added an extra depth to the book. Amal gets looked to as a Muslim, and is therefore considered to be a representative of her entire religion and culture, which of course made me think of The Sunflower.  How often do we look to one person as a representative of their race, their culture, their religion? How often do we say “Well, he’s ____, so he knows ___’s view on the matter,” as if it’s acceptable or reasonable? Looking at it, I realize that I have been on both sides of that; I’ve been “The Catholic” or “The Girl” or “The White Girl” and I’ve been the person going “Well, you’re Jewish, what’s [the Jewish] opinion on the matter?”


Filed under Book Review, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

10 responses to “Does My Head Look Big In This?

  1. Ela

    I think Australia is like many English-speaking countries in that it does have domestic TV (we get some of it in the UK!) but does have a lot of US shows, so it rings quite true for Amal to be referencing Friends and so on). I don’t know about their emergency number – in the UK it’s 999 (or, in line with the EU, 112) – so Australia may also have 911.

    Amal’s story sounds really interesting – I don’t know a lot about Muslim (or Palestinian) culture: does this book show much of that?


    • There’s a decent amount, but it’s not always explained in much detail. There are mentions of major things; her hijab, obviously, Ramadan, some of her prayers, and a few other cultural things.

      It’s a nice jumping-off point, if you’re interested in reading about Muslim characters though.


  2. I don’t know what the emergency number is in Australia, or how up they are on American culture, but I have to say, when I lived in England, everyone knew Friends like the back of their hand. One time my flatmate came in when I was watching Friends, and I paused it as she was coming in, and she looked at the screencap and knew what episode it was. Swear to God. So maybe it’s the same in Australia.


    • Huh. I guess I never thought about American TV being popular abroad… Strange thing to miss, eh? (Especially because I do have several friends in England who watch American shows, and I never thought about it…)


  3. As I was reading the novel “Does my head look big in this” I came across a quantity of unknown words and some recognizable words that presently stood out and some words that I previously knew .There were few words in the novel that weren’t clearly understandable so I just looked them up, furthermore this is what I found: I saw the word Copacabana and it sounded funny the way I pronounced it , one of my friends sitting nearby me said it sounded like I was baby talking for a moment there, so I found the word when Amal was describing how Jennifer Aniston jumped on the stage and started singing a song called “Copacabana” (1).Co·pa·ca·ba·na means -beach resort and residential area in southern Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. An additional word that wasn’t clear out to me was “Wuduh’’ I found this word when Amal said “then I perform the Wudu’’(29) which means the act of washing or wiping specific parts of the body with clean water, which Muslims perform prior to certain acts of worship (primarily Salah).Last but not least I came across “Assalamu Alaykom”,she says, greeting me with the universal Islamic greeting, peace be upon you, and I replied back and said Walaykom Wassalam” (28), which I think means to you as well. One word which I came across of and understood the meaning of was “Yallah” . I understand this word because I have so many Arabic people in my civics class that use that word for everything. Yallah means “come on” or hurry up”(22). In a way that was enjoyable because I felt connected to Amal in a way.


  4. This was a good read for me. Although I felt it became didactic at times, I think the author did a really good job of dealing with the issues that Muslim teens living in the west encounter.
    BTW, “Copacabana” was a song by Barry Manilow. Very popular in the States a long time ago.
    Friends was popular all in a lot of different countries, especially in Europe.


    • I think the reason it had to explain so much about the Muslim faith is because so many people are so very ignorant about Islam. There’s a lot of untrue stigmas attached, and like with every group, the extremes are the ones who garner the most attention. There are, of course, people who have taken the time to learn about Islam, and they will inevitably find it to be repetitive.

      It was really a fun book though, and I enjoyed reading it, though the romance-fan in me was screaming “Date Adam! Date him!”


  5. cady

    Randa-Abdel Fattah is a journalist here (in Oz) and quite eloquent in her columns. Haven’t read any of her books, though. Maybe I should rectify this…
    Btw, the emergency number here in Australia is 000 (triple zero). That bit was definitely Americanised!


  6. cady

    Australia does have its own series of Big Brother though, and has had since 2000. Unfortunately (wish it would die).


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