Publication date : July 28th, 2016
Publisher : Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre : Young Adult | Contemporary
Page Count: 354
Synopsis : Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.
When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.
Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.
Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.
They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.
When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.
A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice. (From Goodreads)
Content Warning: Islamophobia, racism.
This was hands down the most difficult book I’ve had to read in my life. It’s just too personal and real to be an easy read, it hit too close to home, add that to the fact that I read it during a very difficult week for the muslim community… let’s just say that I was in a rough state. But I loved it, every page of it was amazing and brilliant and so spot on that I couldn’t help nod my head with every relevant phrase, sentence or comment.
The writing is straight to the point, no flowery prose of any sort but at the same time it is very emotionally loaded, it made me feel every struggle the main characters felt, every battle they were fighting, it helped a lot with getting me invested in the story very fast (not like I needed much convincing to begin with). Randa Abdel-Fattah does an amazing job in integrating political discourse into these people’s lives, deconstructing and giving counter-arguments for every islamophobic, racist, anti-refugee argument. And this is very proeminent through the whole book.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t expecting When Michael met Mina to be as confronting as it was, I knew it would be to some extent, because you can’t bring up the refugee crisis without it being that way but this was a lot. It never sugar coated any of the issues, any of the conversations, all of it was blunt and layed for the reader to experience, and to make them think. Which was hard for me to read, and I had to take multiple breaks while reading because I’d be either angry, shaking or crying.
I loved how brilliantly the author tackled Islamophobia as well as racism, not only through lived experiences (re: showing rather than telling) but also through discourse and thoughtful commentary. And she does so with so much care and empathy, I’ve never felt like it was harsher than necessary (because some things are bound to be harsh) or like it was some kind of political agenda, it was just refugees’ lives, things they have to deal with on a daily. It’s nauseating, it’s heartbreaking but I loved how in the middle of it all there’s was hope for better as well as a sense of community and family that is heartwarming.
Some of things that happened in the story (and happen in real life as well as even worse) were gutting, it wasn’t just the loud racist acts, it was also the micro-agressions, the jokes, the pokes and jabs. They really hurt. Some quotes from the book:
Was part of our contract here in this country that we should be walking around depressed and broken? Wearing our trauma on this outside? And what about everybody we’d left dead or living in fear back home? Didn’t we owe them? How could I just lead this ordinary life?
Here’s one from an anti-refugee that made me sick to my stomach, because it’s something I’ve heard many MANY times before, everytime before someone starts nitpicking from my culture and appropriating it:
I celebrate our diversity – so long as people assimilate to our values. I don’t have a problem with different foods and festivals. That enriches our country. But people need to fit in with the majority instead of trying to mark themselves as different.
And this last one is one of the many that made me cheer and clap as well as fall in love with the book even more:
“You want me to make it easier for you to confront privilege because God knows even anti-racism has to be done in a way that makes the majority comfortable?”
I love how through two POVs on opposite side, the author took appart every argument and misconception people have. Some of which are:
- •”They can’t be racist, they are nice people” because if you’re not on their islamophobic, racist visor, Michael’s parents and entourage could be the sweetest. I loved how that was showcased through their nice interactions with family/friends vs. their borderline vicious (and sometimes straight up vicious) behavior when it came to refugees.
- Racism comes in different forms. There are the big loud, disgusting acts as well as the casual racism that can seem harmless unless you’re on the receiving end of them.
- You can’t expect marginalized people to craddle you while you face your privilege. And this is something I see so often that I yelled yes when I read it in the book, because it’s true, refugees (in this case) are going through enough for you to add the weight of your own discomfort to it.
There are so many other issues discussed in this book that this is just a small sampler of what awaits you if you decide to pick it up.
Mina is such a strong, determined and caring character, she’s the kind of muslim rep (among others) I want more of. An independant, opinionated, brave girl who stands up for what she believes in, for her people and what’s right. I honestly loved seeing her become that girl because at the start of the book, living with *her* people, she was relatively shielded from the racism but onces that shield was off, seeing her bloom into the activist the becomes at the end was beautiful.
But Michael‘s transformation was better to watch because it was different from where I stand (where I stand being next to Mina probably hugging or high-fiving her). A lot of us believe what our parents tell us at that age, and even later in life, not questioning anything unless someone shakes those beliefs to the core (been there, done that) so witnessing his internal debates as well as him uncovering layers upon layers of privilege and using them for good was fantastic albeit not always pleasant to read. He was an example of what lack of education and one sided “opinions” (re: bigotry) can do to a person and how they can be overcome when the person is willing to listen and learn.
I loved how complex the characters were, staying as far away from stereotypes as possible not only with the refugees but with people on the other side of the debate as well. The cast only made the book more powerful. I particularly loved Mina’s family dynamic, with how close and supportive of one another they were. Speaking of characters, I am pretty sure Michael’s brother is written as autistic (even though the word is never used) and I cannot speak for that rep, so if any reviewers with autism have read this book I’d love to hear their thoughts on it.
All in all this was such a brilliant, thought provoking read that I would recommend to anyone, especially if you’re interested in knowing about Islamophobia, racism and microagressions as well as unpacking privilege. Highly highly recommend this one.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read When Michael Met Mina? If so, what did you think?
How did the discourse affect you?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.