Hate Is Such A Strong Word
Harper Collins AU
Read from my TBR pile
Sophie is 17 and as the eldest and a girl of a Lebanese Australian family she experiences her father’s attempt to adjust to no longer living in his ultra conservative village – something that he’s not at all successful at. Sophie is tired of asking, begging and pleading if she can do the simplest of things, like go down to the shops for lunch with one of her friends. As for parties or events that are not school sanctioned with teachers chaperoning? Forget it.
Entering year 12 in her conservative Catholic Lebanese school in Bankstown in western Sydney, Sophie knows that their insular environment in the heart of Little Lebanon will not prepare them for what they will face when they go on to university or work placements. This is made obvious when new student Shehadie Goldsmith arrives. He’s only half Lebanese, his father is Australian and Sophie watches as the stereotyping begins to work in reverse: Shehadie is isolated, bullied and reviled for not being Lebanese, for not adapting the cultures and the traditions of the old country. She doesn’t approve of it but Sophie is also shy and a social pariah herself, having been dumped by her best friend Dora for the more popular group. She hates the way that watching Shehadie being treated makes her feel, especially when she gets a job outside of her community and finds out that her boss is Shehadie. She gets to know him and he intrigues her just as much as he tends to infuriate her. Shehadie sees her and he pushes her to be herself – if she has the courage.
Shehadie makes Sophie see that sometimes her community is just as prejudiced and racist as the Australians they accuse of it. He makes her feel like she might be able to do something, to make a difference some way – he believes in her, even as the others seek to shove her back into the box she’s attempting to break out of. Because as much as Sophie loves her family and is proud of her culture and her traditions, she doesn’t want to live the life that her mother has lived and she doesn’t want her daughter to be treated differently because she was born female. Will she have the strength to speak out against the very beliefs she’s been brought up to believe and trust in?
This book has been stirring up a bit of interest among the mostly-Aussie YA bloggers that I follow and the topic was one that intrigued me so I picked up a copy. I grew up in what has to be one of the whitest areas in Australia – for some reason, the multicultural thing never penetrated my country town. My experience with other cultures didn’t really occur until I moved to Sydney to go to University and lived in a residential hall with Lebanese, Indian, Asian and other backgrounds. One of the things I noticed a lot was the role of girls and women and how different it often is. Some of the girls from other backgrounds had to go home every Friday and didn’t return until the Monday. Others had to be day students, not permitted to move into the halls because they were co-educational. But until I read this book, I didn’t really grasp what a lot of that would mean for girls growing up in Australia, even ones like Sophie who tended to socialise only within her own ethnic culture.
Sophie’s father is from a very conservative village and he doesn’t permit her to do anything where she may be placed in a situation that would impact negatively on her ability to find a husband and marry someone within their culture. That means no activities that aren’t school sanctioned and chaperoned appropriately or ones that aren’t held by a blood relative. She’s not even permitted to walk the five blocks to her high school but her younger brother is, simply because he’s male and the rules are different for him. He cannot destroy his reputation the way that Sophie could – and any negativity on her would also extend to that of her sisters and her parents as well. I have to admit, reading Sophie’s desperation to be allowed to do things like socialise with her friends kind of made me infuriated. My father was strict (like Sophie I’m the eldest and also a girl, so I was kind of their ‘test run’) but Sophie’s dad makes him look positively non-existent. I understand his thinking too – it’s his job to protect his family and he still kind of functions as if he’s in Lebanon and his ultra-conservative village. But he doesn’t realise that Sophie isn’t and it’s extremely difficult for her to balance her desire to please him and be a good daughter with her desire to have an actual life.
And then there’s Shehadie. I’m 31, so it’s kind of wrong but I’m going to admit that I developed quite a crush on Shehadie Goldsmith and the way in which he handles what he faces at the strict Lebanese Catholic school. He wasn’t raised in the area or within the culture so it’s all new for him and he’s alienated, bullied and judged. It didn’t strike me until after I finished this book what it must’ve been like for Shehadie, who grew up surfing with his mates down in the Shire – not a great place to come from when you are enrolling in a Lebanese school in Bankstown, given the Cronulla riots. He was sent to live with his grandparents and had probably enjoyed a lot more freedom within his school life and personal life. His friends in the Shire didn’t seem to judge him for being half Lebanese but the same did not happen when he came to Bankstown. Everyone likes to talk about how racism doesn’t exist or it only exists one way but none of that is true. It does – and Sophie perfectly expresses why it exists late in the book during the debate she takes part in about whether or not their school should accept students that are not Lebanese: that if you never mix with others, you’ll never learn to accept them. And isolation of any culture, be it Lebanese or anything else, breeds distrust of the different and wariness. All of which leads to racism.
This is the kind of book I could happily talk about forever until I had a review that never stopped. So I’ll just say that I liked everything about it: Sophie and her struggle with her culture versus her desire to live, her family, the insight into the Lebanese community and the fledgling romance with Shehadie. Especially the fledgling romance with Shehadie.
Book #260 of 2013
Hate Is Such A Strong Word is the 94th book for Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013