Firstly, thanks to PanMacmillan Australia for this review copy and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour <3
Date Read: June 12-14 2016
Date Released: June 28th 2016
Publisher: PanMacmillan Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
"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."
Last year, my work had us visit a high school in western Sydney which has had a long running relationship with my organisation. We gave the students tips on writing resumes and in return they cooked for us and showcased student talent. I can tell you, we got so much more out of it than the students. The student population is extremely diverse. A few students who had the courage to get up in front of an audience, told us their stories. One young girl’s story moved me to tears. I’m really terrible at re-telling things but here goes a summarised version (which sounds very emotionless I’m sorry):
She was born in Syria into a loving family and enjoyed going to school. Her favourite hobby was drawing. Your typical kid. Then the discord and war in her country started. Bombs and fighting right on her doorstep. At some point a bomb had exploded 2 blocks away from her school and she was too afraid to return to school after that. Her and her family were living in fear constantly, but they managed to flee their war-torn country and make it out to Australia. At the end of her speech she said she was grateful to be in Australia, back in school and that her dream was to be an artist. I can say that everybody in that hall was reflecting on how lucky we are over here. And it pains me to say that this young girl was one of the lucky ones – she made it out. How many others don’t? Who is even keeping count?
While Abdel-Fattah’s story of Mina and Michael is a fictional one, it’s also true. The horrors that Mina faced in Afghanistan clash violently with Michael’s family’s Aussie Values campaign and I was sucked in to this book from page one.
I freaking adored Mina’s character. She was wise beyond her years as a result of everything she’d been through and it pleased me greatly when she spoke up against something she didn’t believe in/wasn’t right. Her strength of character and her voice felt a lot like me as I’m not one to back down on my beliefs. What made me love Mina even more was the fact that she’d won a scholarship to a prestigious lower North Shore school and she worked so hard to do her best. To be the best, not only for herself, but to make her parents happy. Because her parents left their culturally comfortable Auburn home, for the snotty north, so Mina would be close to school. She never complained for a moment that her life is hard, that she’s stressed or doesn’t have enough. She’s so grateful for everything in front of her, for all her parents have sacrificed for her. I feel that many kids these days, especially the ones who’ve been born into a typical suburban life, would never understand that. She is resilient, a wonderful friend, and so passionate. And you know what? She listens. If she doesn’t understand a belief, she’ll challenge and question and try to understand as we see throughout the book. Honestly, I couldn’t have read a more well written and realistic character.
Then there’s Michael, the son of the leader of Aussie Values – an organisation that wants to stop the boats. He has a loving family, with parents who express their views in such a calm, rational way that I could almost (almost) sympathise with their cause. And here was Michael’s struggle. As Mina opens his eyes to the horrors of war, generations rotting away in refugee camps, being locked in detention centres for who knows how long, and the racist, hypocritical statements of his parents, we see the internal battle in Michael. I really liked the way Michael was written. His character progression is slow, with bits of hesitation about his parents’ beliefs coming out bit by bit. And given his circumstances (suburban rich white boy), it was just the right pace for the story. But is it enough to change his views?
Friendships and familial ties are at stake as we can see from the secondary characters. We see Mina’s family trying to get by in their new affluent suburb, the added on stress from their new restaurant. Then there’s Michael’s group of friends who sound as bogan as they can come. But Abdel-Fattah shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Because Australia is a multicultural country and we are shaped by all that we are. There are lovely neighbours next door and around the corner who want to help. There are intelligent, and supportive friends like Paula who stand at Mina’s side. And the majority of students that Mina interacts with at school don’t care about her race or background – they care about her academically and who is going to out-perform who.
Underpinning the to-ing and fro-ing of arguments between Mina and Michael are the increasingly reckless and intolerable things Aussie Values were willing to do in an attempt to get their name out. The things they said, the actions they took, had me dreading what would happen next. While I’ve never ventured much to the North Shore, it disgusted me that people who should be educated and high income earners, would be so closed-minded. However, I do believe there are people like that everywhere and Abdel-Fattah writes it all very realistically (hah well because it is real).
The one thing I didn’t like about this book and the reason I knocked off a star was the romance. It all felt very insta-lovey in the beginning and the pacing of the development of their relationship (hot and cold, fast and slow) had me feeling a bit off kilter. Y’all know I hate my insta-love and the romance of a novel is the hardest thing to win me on LOL. Yeah at times it was struggle street to read when romance was concerned but it’s cute nonetheless. And don’t worry, there are way too many things between these two for them to get together that easily… or at all? I won’t spoil!
What had me closing this book with such a happy feeling was the way Abdel-Fattah wrote it all. She presents two very well written perspectives, and she challenges the reader through Mina, but she never forces anything down the reader’s throat. I felt that I was hearing a lot of Mina’s arguments but I could hold on to my own beliefs too if they differed. Why? Because a lot of character’s values and beliefs in the book didn’t change by the end. And I loved that. You might find it disappointing but one person’s voice may not reach everybody. I think even if it reaches one person, it’s great.
When Michael Met Mina may be marketed at the young-adult demographic but it’s a book I think every Australian (and then some) need to read. It’s about international justice, modern-day Australian politics, a history of racism bred through generations, the victims of war, multiculturalism, and ultimately what it means to be Australian.