Don't panic - I'm Islamic! Amal is a 16-year-old Melbourne teen with all the usual obsessions about boys, chocolate and Cosmo magazine. She's also a Muslim, 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.
With an engaging narrator at the helm, Abdel-Fattah's debut novel should open the eyes of many a reader. Headstrong and witty, 16-year-old Amal, an Australian-Muslim-Palestinian ("That means I was born an Aussie and whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens") decides during winter break from her posh private school that she's ready to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, fulltime, as a testament to her faith. Amal knows she will face discrimination by classmates and misinformed people but she is committed to her decision; her parents are initially concerned, but ultimately rally behind her. Their worries, in fact, are well-founded: Amal attracts her share of stares and taunts both at school and around town, but she finds strength, not only from her convictions, but from her close-knit group of friends, who for various reasons being Japanese, Jewish, nerdy or body-conscious are perceived as being outside "the norm." As Amal struggles with her identity in a post-9/11 world ("Do you have any idea how it feels to be me, a Muslim, today? I mean, just turn on the television, open a newspaper.... It feels like I'm drowning in it all"), her faith and an array of ever-ready quips help her navigate an often-unforgiving world. Using a winning mix of humor and sensitivity, Abdel-Fattah ably demonstrates that her heroine is, at heart, a teen like any other. This debut should speak to anyone who has felt like an outsider for any reason. Ages 12-up.