All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

on July 4, 2016

When Michael Met MinaWhen Michael Met Mina
Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 360p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {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.

This novel has almost impeccable timing, dropping just before the country went to the polls on Saturday in a federal election. As I write this, there’s currently no result, with both major parties not yet having enough seats to form a government. During the 8-week election campaign (and honestly, for the years before that) there’s been a big thing about Stop The Boats. The refugees. Asylum seekers. Using their life savings to ‘jump the queue’ and pay a guy in usually Indonesia with a dodgy, leaky boat that may or may not even make it to Australian shores. For quite a while now there’s been a big thing about stopping the boats, turning them back, making out like those coming here are a threat to our sovereignty and safety. The Islamophobia slowly building has been gently (and not so gently) fanned in some directions too. Hello Queensland, thanks for re-electing Pauline Hanson. The 1990s called – they want their racist back. I we thought we’d moved on and maybe evolved a bit, but apparently not.

In When Michael Met Mina, Mina is such a boat person. She and her mother arrived by boat when she was a child after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mina has just been granted a scholarship to a prestigious school in Sydney’s North Shore and so her family move from Auburn, where they’ve lived since being released from detention into the community, to Lane Cove in order for Mina to easier attend that school. It’s a brave move, considering Mina’s stepfather had a flourishing restaurant in the west and they had a community they felt safe, happy and comfortable in. Lane Cove is a bit of a different sort of vibe and Mina’s stepfather has to start again, opening an Afghani restaurant from scratch.

Michael is the son of the founder of the Aussie Values party – they don’t hate refugees, sometimes they even feel sorry for them. They just don’t want them coming to Australia and especially not doing that queue jumping thing by arriving by boat. Michael has been raised in such an environment but he’s never really questioned what he believes in, just gone along with what his parents believe in….until he meets Mina.

This book is a snapshot of society – Mina is the side who thinks that it’s not a crime to flee persecution, genocide, terror and fascism and begin a new life elsewhere. Michael, and mostly Michael’s parents are the right-wing side of politics, making some of the right noises but really just being about not wanting anymore boat people for reasons they can’t really articulate beyond “queue jumping” and “not assimilating” where they make “assimilating” sound like some sort of Jeudo-Christian brain-washing. If they do come here then they can leave their mosques, their halal food and their head-coverings behind, speak English and not band together in their ethnic groups. But mostly, it’d probably just be better if they didn’t come here, really.

Michael has been relatively sheltered, cast in the shadow of his parent’s political beliefs and he never really has a reason to query his own thoughts until he meets Mina, hears some of her views and begins to wonder just what he himself might think is right. At times Michael is a bit dense – thoughtless, perhaps, having heard one thing all his life and not maybe realised how that or variations of that, might sound when repeated to someone who went through what Mina and her mother did. And although Michael’s parents advocate peaceful, intelligent debate not everyone in their party is so inclined – and some of the acts are truly quite sickening. They’re paired with some examples of scaremongering, shoddy reporting, the sort of thing that you actually do see on commercial current affair tabloid shows or read in Murdoch newspapers all the time.

Despite the fact that I have little in common with Mina, we share similar beliefs, so for me it was easier to identify with her than it was with Michael. But I’m not a teenager anymore either and I’ve seen plenty around of all ages who share the views of Michael and his parents. In fact, a casual glance at my facebook feed after the election generated as much depressing reading as it did hopeful reading. But it is Michael that is the character that shines in a way, because he is the one that experiences so much growth. He goes from tolerating his friend, a purveyor of casual racism and sexism, to standing up against it, from blindly following what his parents believe to searching for his own beliefs. He visits a place he’s unfamiliar with really (Auburn, which the book kind of makes sound like Outer Mongolia, lol) and thinks about the plight of people, thinks of them as more than people who just arrive on a boat. He becomes horrified by some of the things his parents say and the things that some of them in their group do.

I really enjoyed this book and the pairing of Michael and Mina. The switch between points of view, which can often be difficult, felt well executed and I liked the friend that Mina makes at her new school. It’s the sort of book that would do well to be on a school curriculum to help showcase a different, more personal and relateable side of an important issue. And it’s something that could resonate all over the world as Australia isn’t the only country having the immigration debate by far. I loved Mina’s family and felt that the author did a great job of conveying how they felt about probably never being able to ‘go home’. That it was never in their lifetime going to be safe for them and even though they had gone through hell to find somewhere else, somewhere they could live in happiness and (relative) peace, it wasn’t as such, their home. Not in the way they wished. Sometimes I feel like there’s this thing that everyone should feel grateful to be in Australia….and I’m sure people do. But on the flip side, for many they’re here because they simply can’t be where their home is. And no matter how dangerous it might be, it’s still home. And many people have left behind loved ones, be they alive or not and their ties there are still very strong. It’s a delicate balance, portraying those sorts of feelings. I particularly loved the character of Mina’s Baba…..he seemed like a truly amazing man.


Book #137 of 2016

This review is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour. Make sure you stop and check out all the other posts on the tour.

WMM Blog Tour Poster

3 responses to “Review: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

  1. Thank you sooooo much for this thoughtful and lovely review! It makes every struggle writing something this difficult and challenging worth it. THANK YOU! Randa Abdel-Fattah x

  2. […] When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Pan MacMillan AUS. My review. […]

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