Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When Michael Met Mina || Review // Book Tour

Title: When Michael Met Mina
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Release Date: July 28, 2016
Source: Review copy from the 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.

Randa Abdel-Fattah's latest YA novel, When Michael Met Mina, follows the author's well paved path of boy-meets-girl, white-meets-colour and spins a familiar Romeo and Juliet tale with a modern twist. And produces the result the story was pulling for: empathy. Mina, a former refugee, who fled to Australia for safety with her mother is the outsider in Sydney's prestigious, expensive, majority Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood. Then she meets, or collides would be more appropriate, the very white, very proud, very loud Michael, whose family is a driving force behind keeping Australia free from cultural diversity. 

I fell in love with Randa Abdel-Fattah as soon as I finished the first book of hers I read - which, if I remember correctly, was Does My Head Look Big In This?. As a writer, she strays from nothing, the hard topics aren't hard and the easy ones aren't insignificant enough to be skipped over. Mina was portrayed as the underdog from the beginning of the novel, however I felt the most empathy with Michael. Possibly because, as a white Australian myself, his story was closer to mine than Mina's - despite the major difference in how his family treated asylum seekers. Michael was the strongest character in my opinion and had the more interesting storyline. Although Mina's struggles were well written, she could often come across as preachy or unable to see another view point. Even when she was right (and generally she was), this made her feel cold and hard to sympathise with. While Michael's character growth was enjoyable and seeing him form his own opinions was one of my favourite parts of this book, Mina felt like she stayed still. Her ideals and my own aligned completely, but I would've liked her character to be more active and involved, rather than just sprouting already formed ideas.

I loved that we were given a large amount of Mina's backstory and this felt necessary to the story. For me this was when I felt for Mina the most, despite obviously not completely being able to understand what she went through. Mina was such a complex character, and so sure and strong in her opinions, that I also felt that this background was important for readers to be able to empathise with her. Her story, too, felt validated by the author's own heritage and cultural similarities to Mina. It felt authentic and dramatic without being dramatised, kudos for this!

This could have been a book solely about politics. After all, asylum seekers are a hot topic in Australia at the moment. However Abdel-Fatth has instead created a rich story about first love, being true to yourself and learning that it's okay to stand alone to do what's right.