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When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Book Review.

When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Book Review.
When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Book Review.
When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Book Review.When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia on July 28th 2016
Genres: Contemporary fiction, Young adult
Pages: 354
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three-stars

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.

Michael:

I wear my politics like hand-me down clothes: some bits feel like they don’t fit me properly, but I expect I’ll grow into them, trusting that because they’re from my parents they’ve come from a good source.

Mina:

“I’m not going to do the refugee myth-busting thing with you. If you’re still running those slogans, you’re the one with work to do, not me.”

Randa Abdel-Fattah in When Michael Met Mina

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Book Review.

Michael and Mina went to the same school, but they were otherwise worlds apart.

Michael was raised by parents with unyielding sociopolitical beliefs (read: racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic). His father was the founder of the ‘Aussie Values’ political group, whose party lines mirror those scaremongering headlines we do see in Australia today. ‘Protect Aussie values’ by ‘stopping the boats’, stop the ‘queue-jumpers’, stop the Islamisation of Australia. And anyway, if they had enough money to get on a boat to Australia, they’re not ‘real refugees’ in the first place. Immigration is encouraged as long as you leave your culture behind and if you don’t, you can go back to where you came from. Healthy debate too is encouraged, as long as you agree with what Aussie Values has to say.

Michael shared the beliefs touted by his parents, as young people tend to do. He otherwise seemed like a nice young man. Quiet with good grades, he cared deeply for his younger brother with autism. But he was the product of his environment and when he opened his mouth, and when he was ‘joking around’ with his mates, he was racist. Plain and simple.

Naturally he was confused when he found himself attracted to Mina.

Mina, from the ‘ethnically diverse’ part of town.

Mina, who ten years earlier was one of those ‘illegal boat people’ he had protested against.

Mina, who fled Afganistan with her mother, having lost her father and then her baby brother along the way.

And Mina, whose mother and step-father now ran an Afghan restaurant in Michael’s part of town.

 

Mina didn’t seem so bad to Michael. In fact, he really liked her. No wonder he was confused. Mina and her family were exactly the type of people that Aussie Values didn’t want in the country.

With his feelings inconsistent with everything he had believed in and everything his parents stood for, he found himself questioning his beliefs for the first time.

 

When Michael Met Mina brings a topical sociopolitical discussion to a young adult audience, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The treatment of refugees in Australia remains a hot political issue, a fiercely debated social issue, and a critical human rights issue. This book will encourage teenagers to engage in political discussion and shows they do have a voice, they do have a right to their own opinion, and they can be heard.

 

For me the narrative lacked subtlety and sophistication. The romance was unrealistic, the characters stereotyped and the dialogue cringeworthy at times. I suspect these would be less of an issue for the intended audience, however.

There were strong points. Friendships are celebrated. Families look out for each other. And the messages are clear: of having independent thought, of looking past first impressions, of a willingness to learn about those that are different, and of accepting and embracing differences rather than fearing them.

 

This would be an ideal book for a high school curriculum and for supporters of Pauline Hanson. (Oh did I say that aloud?)

 

Have you read When Michael Met Mina? Or do you have any recommendations on other books looking at refugees in Australia? I’d love to hear! Let’s discuss in the comments below.

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Hi! I'm Julia, a lifelong reader, an aspiring writer, medical doctor, and now book blogger, from Queensland, Australia! Go to 'About Read and Live Well' to learn more!

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