Life appears to be looking up for Jamie when the most popular boy in school begins to show an interest in her. Added to that she gets an after-school job and makes an email friend, John, the only person with whom she can be completely honest. However her fate as a social outcast appears sealed when her father’s Stone Age Charter of Curfew Rights threatens to prevent her attending the much-anticipated Year 10 formal and her Arabic band is hired to play at the formal.
Disclaimer: This review contains what you would call spoilers. Although you don’t need spoilers to predict what happened in the story so I personally don’t think it will make a difference.
If you are looking for an empowering story about embracing your religion/culture/identity, battling racism and Islamophobia etc., look somewhere else. This book is nothing more than a cliche American teen movie set in Australia. To summarise it, an insecure teenage girl has some boy problems, some friend problems and some boy problems, which are actually all non-problems if she had more than 4 brain cells. She exchanged some emails with a stranger who in a non-plot twist turned out to be a guy she knew. All problems solved themselves and they shared an out-of-no-where kiss at
prom formal. The End.
The whiny protagonist
If I have to describe Jamilah with one word, it would be “annoying”. She is your old-fashioned whiny teenage girl who cares way too much about what other people think. Her problems are not even real problems, she made being an Australian without disowning her Lebanese heritage seems impossible. Not true.
For a character who started off with dying her hair blond and putting on blue contact lenses to look white, I had high expectations that she would grow throughout the story into a strong character, because seriously, how can she get any worse? Well, she has definitely exceeded my expectation and got much, much worse. Halfway through a book she had the audacity to get irritated at Timothy because he wasn’t as pathetic as she was. She told him that because he didn’t care about what the bullies think, he is “arrogant”, and that because he is acting more mature than her, he is “judging” her. She also exclaimed that “everyone HAVE to care about what people think”. Who the hell does she think she is?
If the “I am a whiny little baby so everyone else has to be whiny little babies too” mentality isn’t arrogant and self-centered enough, she is also a hypocrite. When she was exchanging emails with John, who was actually Timothy. She voluntarily poured out all her secrets to a stranger online and then demanded the John to do the same. When John refused, she won’t take no for an answer and kept on pestering him until he told him his own secrets. The author tried to depict her as witty in the email interaction but that backfired as she only came across as a pushy, nosy brat who has no respect for personal privacy. If you think that’s the worst she did, we are not done yet. After revealing their identities to each other, she got mad at Timothy for making her tell him all her secrets (again, she did it voluntarily), without considering how she forced him to do the same. Again, what a hypocrite.
If you think changing her appearance to pretend to be another race is bad, well you haven’t seen the worst. She never once stood up against a bigoted, misogynistic, and racist bully, for herself or for her classmates. The most defiance thing she had ever done was glaring at him, and that’s because her bulky brother was there to do all the work for him. On that of that, she was spineless enough to try to gain his approval and affection, it wasn’t even an act to protect herself, she had a legit crush on that guy because he was popular. What?
She was a bit more rebellious with her father, but why was she rebellious? No, not because her father doesn’t trust his teenage daughter, it’s also not because he forbid her from having a healthy social life, and no, it is definitely not because he is a sexist asshole. She was rebellious she could party and smoke behind a cinema. Yes, teenage girls who live in a sexist household out there, the only reason you may want to rebel is so that you can be your parents’ worst nightmare.
The unrealistic plot
An Arabic girl cannot look like a Caucasian just by dying her hair blonde and wearing blue contact lenses. That should be obvious.
As I said before, the character didn’t develop, at all. She just got whinier and whinier throughout 90% of the book and because the book needs an ending, everything wrapped itself up for whatever reasons. She just decided to go on the stage in the last minute to reveal her identity. there was no leading up, there were was no signs of her getting over her fears, she just all of a sudden decided to do something that contradicts with what she said a few pages ago with no explanations. Then, everything just happened to fix themselves like a miracle. The author spent the entire book portraying the school as some ultra-racist school, but in literally the last paragraph of the book, they loved the Arabic band. When and how did they change their attitude? Nobody knows.
Unrealistic depiction of racism
As an Australia and a POC myself, I can say that racism is NOT how it is portrayed in the book. Racism is subtle and even unintentional in real life. It is also extremely rare in big cities. In the 21st century, and in an international city like Sydney, explicit racism is no way an acceptable social norm as it is portrayed in the book. The depiction of racism is outdated by at least 6 decades.