Ready for a break from fairies, mutants, and time travel?
Then this may just be the book for you!
Ten things I hate about me is Randa Abdel-Fattah’s second book. It won the Kathleen Mitchell award, an award I had never heard about before but that is apparently some Australian thing.
Brief plot summary
Jamilah Towfeek is a Lebanese-Australian teenager living in the suburbs of Sydney. Embarrassed by her religion, ethnic background, and overprotective father, Jamilah dyes her hair and wears contacts in an attempt to pass as a “normal” Australian.* She attempts to maintain strict separation between her school life and home life, keeping her background and religion a secret from her closest friends. Her only true confidant is an anonymous online correspondant.
So how is it?
I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s a pretty standard teen novel, it’s just written from a slightly different cultural background than usual. The classic elements of the adolescent identity crisis storyline are all there, although the resolution is slightly different than in a more WASP-centric novel. The fact that it seems subversive says more subconcious bias towards WASP-as-default than it does about the book itself.
Honestly, it’s a good deal less subversive than most YA fiction. Abdel-Fattah manages to send the classic “it’s important to be yourself and trying to be what you think people want you to be will only make you unhappy” message that’s practically mandatory in any YA novel, teen soap opera, or anime/manga but does it in a conservative manner. I think it’s a fairly important message – being “who you really are” doesn’t in se mean you have to be outrageous, or reject your parent’s values, or whatever. It’s okay if who you really are is somebody who listens to their family and takes their advice. That Abdel-Fattah manages to send that message without seeming prescriptive or critical of people who do choose to stand out really helps the book, in my eyes.
If Jamie faces all of the teen crises familiar in the “standard” YA melodrama, her background means she gets to face a few extra ones too. One of the reasons Jamie passes as a WASP is that social life in her school is highly segregated, and minority students are frequent targets of bullying. This adds some more depth to the “trying to be one of the cool kids” trope which helps keep the book interesting.
It’s a light quick read (I started and finished it during a four hour reference desk shift) but it has a lot going for it and it’s worth checking out and/or recommending.
This is one of my go-to recommendations for “realistic” YA fiction. It has a lot going for it. For most of the patrons I’ve recommended it to, it features an easily relatable main character coming from a perspective that they aren’t used to. Jamie’s family is lively and engaging and it’s a good book for deconstructing stereotypes. I’ve also recommended it to patrons who are frustrated with the sexual content in much of YA fiction.
As for other recommendations… there are a plethora of options. Outside of paranormal romance, it’s one of the most common themes for YA fiction that I’ve encountered so there is no shortage of cross recommendations. I’m going to go someplace a little different here:
Ms. Marvel : no normal / G. Willow Wilson ; Adrian Alphona ; Jacob Wyatt – Liked Ten things I hate about me but wish it had more superheroes? The first trade collection of the new Ms. Marvel series has essentially the same plot as Abdel-Fattah’s work, but with more explosions.
The casual vacancy / J.K. Rowling – this one deals with a lot of the same themes from a decidedly more “adult” perspective.
Beastly / Alex Flinn – ignore the horrifyingly bad movie. Please.
A Cinderella story – yeah, it’s a movie starring Hilary Duff, but if there weren’t enough WASPs in Ten things I hate about me then you can get a lot of the same here