“I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life when I wanted to pray. My mom always made me think that as Muslims, we should. But as soon as I stopped caring about what Mom thought, I stopped praying altogether. But today—right now—I really want to pray.” (Rebels by Accident, p. 150)
Rebels by Accident introduces us to Mariam, a 15-year-old Arab-American teenager who finds herself in jail after police raid a party she had crashed with her best friend, Deanna. Her horrified parents punish her for this first act of “rebellion” by sending her to Egypt to stay with her paternal grandmother, Sittu, a woman known to her only as someone strict and uncompromising. It is in Egypt where the story unfolds. Under the careful watch of Sittu, Mariam and Deanna are thrust into a foreign culture, where through a series of adventures (visiting the pyramids, going to the mall, ice-skating), the girls come to realizations about who they are as individuals. It is also within the backdrop of the political revolution, exemplified by the mass gathering at Tahrir Square, where “surrounded by thousands of protestors, Mariam finally embraces what it means to be American and Egyptian.”
Author Patricia Dunn joins a growing number of Muslim writers to publish young adult (YA) novels that feature Muslim female protagonists who are neither portrayed as nameless victims nor some veiled, orientalist fantasy in need of saving. It is not too farfetched to suggest that Rebels By Accident is part of a new wave of YA novels featuring Muslim girls whose stories join other teen voices grappling with issues of identity, sexuality, religion, and a myriad of “first times.” These themes are exemplified in books that include (among others) Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, which according this post represents a new trend in YA fiction, where the Muslim protagonist isn’t depicted as a terrorist. Another is The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu which exemplifies a good sci-fi story featuring a strong, female protagonist who is Muslim. Other books focusing on the experiences of Muslim girls include Ten Things I Hate About Me, Ask Me No Questions, Skunk Girl and A Map of Home.
The real question, however, is where Rebels By Accident stands in terms of building understanding and or reinforcing stereotypes about Muslim girls in popular YA fiction. [Read more...]