Today I’m pleased to welcome Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah to The Unfinished Bookshelf. I really enjoyed both Does My Head Look Big in This and her latest release When Michael Met Mina. Randa’s books explore contemporary political and religious issues with such thought and depth. I highly recommend checking out her work.
As a journalist, I am always pleased to see political issues I’m passionate about explored in the books I read. Why do you think it’s important for young adult fiction to explore issues like those covered in When Michael Met Mina?
Because racism isn’t something that we should confine to academic or media discussions. It is a lived experience, a fundamental part of many people’s everyday lives, something they negotiate and struggle against and I think it’s so important that young people have their stories validated and that those who are born into the privilege of whiteness understand that privilege and what it means for their life chances and experiences compared to racialised minorities.
Do you think political and social issues should be explored more in young adult fiction?
Yes definitely. Political and social issues are the stuff of life including young adults’ lives. We shouldn’t underestimate young people or seek to ‘protect’ them from the realities of the world.
Michael grows a lot throughout the book and feels a lot of conflict about challenging the views of his parents. How important do you think it is for young adult books to explore growth and to show teens it’s possible to form your own views?
I think everyone is capable of change and growth. But not everybody is capable or willing to change. I think it’s important to understand that change is hard, that there are structural forces bigger than ‘willpower’ that block people from having the courage to ask questions about who they are and what they believe. But racism can’t be dismantled unless people are confronted and provoked to think.
How much research went into When Michael Met Mina and how long did it take you to write?
I based my book on my own fieldwork, my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates. It took about two years to write.
Has your writing or writing process changed at all with each book you’ve written?
No doubt. I grow and learn with each book. My process hasn’t changed much but I think that my handling of issues like race is more nuanced, critical and complex now, reflecting changes in my own politics.
What do you hope readers take away from When Michael Met Mina?
Never stop questioning and reflecting on what you have, who you are, and what you know and don’t know.
What books left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?
Too many to do justice to! Some books which had a profound impact on me as I wrote WMMM are White Nation (Ghassan Hage), Against Paranoid Nationalism (Ghassan Hage), The Politics of Emotion (Sara Ahmed), Black Skin White Masks (Fanon).
What projects are you currently working on?
Rest. Haha. I just finished my Phd. And I wrote WMMM during my Phd. And I’m about to have a baby. So my project is ‘how not to work’, or ‘how to take time out’….(Although I am working on the film screenplay of Does My Head Look Big In This? which is due at the end of the year so maybe rest is not the right word after all…)
This Q&A is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour.
Read my review of the book here and follow the other stops using #Michael4Mina.