Michael – ‘And then, because I can’t hold out any longer, I take a chance, lean in and kiss her. So softly it makes my insides ache.’
Mina – ‘Every time I think of our lips locking, the feel of our tongues meeting, the tenderness with which he held me close to him, my stomach plunges the same way it does on roller-coaster rides.’
I like first kisses, especially when it comes to YA writing. But Michael and Mina’s was a long time coming.
My daughter is rarely wrong. She reads YA widely and recommends – and she was totally right with this one. I did doubt her for a short time. I thought Randa Abdel-Fattah’s story of these star crossed lovers was somewhat clunky in getting up and running, but once it got a head of steam up, this was a ravishing read. Hopefully it will become a favourite of readers of her targeted age group all across Oz – and maybe not just with the female gender.
Michael is a knockabout lad; typically Aussie – bright, but doesn’t ponder too deeply about stuff. On the other hand, his parents do. They run a ‘patriotic’ organisation called Aussie Values – and Michael goes along with them for the ride. The author portrayed his parents as good, caring people; very moderate, by Pauline Hanson standards. But their operation attracts the far right wing hangers on – those that peddle a message of hate. Michael’s mum and dad tolerate them – and it leads to trouble.
When Michael meets Mina he discovers she’s quite unlike any girl he’s ever had dealings with previously. And as they gradually grow closer, well then, two worlds collide. She’s an Afghani refugee, closeted by a deeply traumatised, but loving, family, who are starting to make headway with their new lives in Oz – until the numbskull element from Aussie Values get involved. All of a sudden Michael needs to make decisions as to where his loyalties lie; in effect, what really are his own values. Are they with family or a beautiful, compelling and intelligent young lady? One who has turned his life upside down.
I thoroughly enjoyed this tome. It throws light on the openings for hate that Abbott, Abetz, Morrison et al created with their recent regime, still sadly lingering under Turnbull. Our present policies are inhumane as well as illegal under international law, but – well don’t get me started. We were once far more tolerant, with this publication from Randa Abdel-Fattah highlighting those Aussies who have lost that side of their national character, as well as those who still retain it. At one stage Michael’s mother states that what’s happening in Australia, on the race issue, is like the soup she is preparing – ‘The dominant flavour is asparagus. I’ve got other spices and flavours in here too because that makes the soup so rich and flavoursome. But they complement the asparagus, they don’t take over.’ When Michael relates this to Mina, she explodes, ‘So let me get this right Michael. Australia is a big bowl of soup and Aussie Values is about protecting the asparagus from an over zealous pepper or cardamon pod.’
As the two main protagonists develop feelings for each other there are the subsidiary narrative lines involving their various mates to be resolved as well. Paula has a crush on a teacher whilst Jane is besotted by one of Michael’s dip-stick mates, unable to recognise that she is being used. Naturally all the strands, including the issues involved in the affection between the Aussie lad and the Afghani lass, are sorted by novel’s end. But even so, the way ahead may still not be overly easy for our main couple. For me, the sign of a terrific read is whether, by the time I turn the last page, I am disappointed that my time with the author’s creations is about to be terminated. I felt that way with this title and I can only hope there is a sequel in the offing. There’s scope Randa.
And, surprisingly, I found that I had something in common with Mina and Michael, despite the alarming number of decades in age difference. When they first met they bonded over an indie band, the XX. I have their first album and love it. Oh dear, who’d have thought?
The author’s website = http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/