Skip to main content

Ten Things I Hate About Me

Review

Ten Things I Hate About Me

Jamilah is leading a double life. At home she's a dutiful daughter, the "good girl" in her Lebanese Muslim family. Her older sister is a devoted Muslim --- she even wears the hijab in public --- but much to their widowed father's dismay, she has foregone college in favor of social and political activism. Her older brother parties, drinks and dates girls; he gets away with it because he's a boy. As for Jamilah, she's convinced that the only outings her father will let her go on are her weekly trips to madrasa, Arabic school. Jamilah loves madrasa --- she's the drummer for a talented Arabic band --- but she'd also really like to, say, go to a boy-girl party or even to her upcoming 10th grade formal dance. She knows he would never let her go, though, and she also knows that her friends from school would never understand his strictness.

That's because at school, Jamilah is known only as Jamie, and no one knows about her Lebanese heritage or her Muslim background. With her dyed-blonde hair and blue contact lenses, Jamie looks just as much like a "skip" as any Anglo kids in her school. Racism and ethnic prejudice run rampant at Jamie's Sydney, Australia, school, however, so, as Jamie explains, "I've hidden the fact that I'm of Lebanese-Muslim heritage from everybody at school to avoid people assuming I drive planes into buildings as a hobby."

Unfortunately, Jamie's crush, Peter, is one of the prime instigators of those kinds of racist taunts --- and because no one knows her real identity, she just has to sit idly by while the other Muslim kids take the verbal abuse of the "in group." When Jamie learns that Peter, one of the most popular and cutest boys in school, might just like her back, she's determined to find a way to go to the formal dance and keep her ethnic identity a secret from Peter.

But, as usual, fate has a way of intervening, and when Jamilah finds herself baring her soul --- both sides of it --- to an online correspondent known only as "John," she discovers the liberation of being truly honest about who she is and where she comes from. But can she translate that cyber-bravery into real-life honesty? And can she trust her true friends to stick by her true self?

Randa Abdel-Fattah's first book, DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS?, was widely praised for incorporating Muslim culture and identity into a "typical" young adult novel about a normal teenaged girl. In it, the heroine makes a decision to wear the hijab to her mainstream school as a gutsy declaration of her Muslim pride and identity. TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT ME has a somewhat less positive tone. In case you couldn't tell from the title --- which, despite its play on a popular movie title, manages to convey some real self-loathing --- Jamilah spends most of the book feeling down on herself, her family, even her choice of friends.

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT ME does raise important questions about trust and self-confidence, and it, like its predecessor, does a good job of showing that Muslim families live everywhere and share many of the same concerns as their non-Muslim counterparts. Jamilah questions her father and her Arabic school teacher about the contradictions she sees within Muslim culture, and she certainly asserts her own will against her oppressive father's. But she also appreciates, and eventually embraces, her religious and ethnic identity in a positive way.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 1, 2010

Ten Things I Hate About Me
by Randa Abdel-Fattah

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Orchard Books
  • ISBN-10: 0545050561
  • ISBN-13: 9780545050562