Layla wins a scholarship to an impressive high school. On her first day, wearing a long skirt and a headscarf, Layla certainly stands out. Some of her fellow students (and teachers) make assumptions. And Layla doesn’t always help herself: speaking before thinking through the consequences can get you into trouble, even if you don’t look different.
Layla gets suspended. Whether the suspension is justified or not, Layla knows that she needs to work hard to change the school’s perceptions. Her scholarship is at stake. Layla learns about a big invention competition, and she figures if she wins the competition, people will take notice. Can she do it?
This novel is aimed at people at least 50 years younger than me (say 10 to 13), but the messages are just as clear to me as they would (or should) be to others. Layla is an engaging character: she and her family are immigrants from Sudan and have experienced both racism and Islamophobia. The real value of this story is in introducing these issues to younger readers in a way which should stimulate discussion. Layla’s determination to succeed is commendable, even if her application sometimes needs a little focus.
This is a story told with humour and I enjoyed the way in which some serious issues were dealt with. I also loved Layla’s invention. I loved the ending, which draws together several of the themes: it seemed so appropriate, so hopeful (on most levels). And Layla learned that being the only hijabi is only one way of being different: others also have difficulty fitting in.
This is Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s first work of fiction. I’d certainly be interested in reading more.
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