These questions about identity are among the biggest concerns for many teens. So it's no surprise that so many novels written for young adults tackle this area of philosophical conflict. I read 10 Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah and Pink by Lili Wilkinson in the same week, having no idea that they share some interesting similarities. Both novels are by awesome Australian young adult authors and both stories take place in modern day Australia. But as I read each one, I found that the similarities go beyond the geographical: these two novels tackle the classic young adult issue of identity in some unique and specific ways.
Jamilah/Jamie, the teenage narrator of 10 Things I Hate About Me, is an first generation Australian Lebanese-Muslim in the midst of culture clash identity crisis. Embarrassed and confused by the visibility her identity as a Lebanese-Muslim would give her, Jamilah dies her hair blonde and goes by 'Jamie' in school. Meanwhile, she struggles to reconcile these feelings with her enjoyment of family parties and playing with her Arabic band. As Jamie/Jamilah works to keep her two personas separate and intact, her father's strict rules threaten to ruin her chances at a "normal" teenage experience.
Ava, the equally conflicted protagonist of Pink, is also working to balance multiple personas. Her uber-liberal parents are thrilled by both Ava's current penchant for black and her very intellectual girlfriend Chloe. But Ava's not so sure. She loves Chloe but a part of her really craves to wear pink sweaters and be a "normal girl" with a boyfriend and an interest in shopping. So she transfers to an elite private school to try out a new self along with her new wardrobe. Soon Ava is trying to be all things to all people and her multiple personas threaten to intersect and explode the delicate balance of her life.
Both novels follow a girl with a conflicted sense of identity through attempts to hide pieces of her life or personality in order to appear more mainstream and into a conclusion that being complicated self is much more satisfying. Since all young adult struggle with questions of personal identity and representation, a diverse group of readers will be find common ground with both Jamilah and Ava. Abdel-Fattah and Wilkinson create believable characters with realistic teen voices and each writer evokes specific cultures within the diverse world of modern day Australia. Pink also does an especially nice job creating a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of emerging sexual identity and bisexuality.
I personally found Wilkinson's Pink to be a stronger novel overall. The story is more complex, the writing slightly tighter, and Ava was flawed but still sympathetic. 10 Things covers important cultural ground that has generally been barren in YA lit but I found Jamilah/Jamie to be slightly too whiny for my taste; however, her narration is likely a pretty accurate representation of the internal voice of a frustrated younger teen.
Check these Aussie authors out!
10 Things I Hate About Me