A review by Nalini Haynes
Michael and his dad are at a rally against refugees. There aren’t many on their side of the protest so he’s pretty close to the other side, the pro-refugee side, when he sees a gorgeous teenage girl. He doesn’t speak to her — then.
Mina attends a pro-refugee rally with friends. After all, she was an Afghani boat person herself before she was incarcerated in Villawood then, ten years ago, she and her mother were released into the community. Now her mom has remarried: Mina’s dad was shot on their doorstep so someone could earn brownie points. They’re all moving to a tiny flat in lower North Shore Sydney so Mina doesn’t have far to travel to attend her new school as a scholarship student.
At her new school, Mina studies hard while trying to make new friends. Although some students are welcoming, others are trouble. That boy Michael stares a lot…
When Mina Met Michael is an expose of racism and Islamophobia in Australia. Abdel-Fattah seeks to maintain balance by having Chinese and Indian immigrants in the anti-refugee organization: possibly too many non-whites to be convincing, none of whom experience racism personally. Michael’s parents are anti-refugee, spouting a lot of the rhetoric I’ve heard online and from the ‘other side’ at refugee rallies.
Michael doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps for a career and, through the novel, he questions his parents’ politics, doing more research into politics than most year 11 students would put into an actual assignment. He’s in a different kind of closet looking out.
A marked lack of difference on the basis of financial status bothered me. Ok, Mina’s family lives in a small flat and her bestie lives in a mansion. However, Mina buys coffee every day, has laser hair removal treatments and doesn’t seem to suffer from financial disadvantage or upper-class discrimination like every other scholarship student ever. Mina’s only point of difference is ethnicity: she doesn’t wear a hijab although her mother does and she has money whenever she wants something.
I enjoy fiction that tackles sociological issues like When Michael Met Mina. This novel is particularly inspiring because, earlier this year, a writers group told me to either stop writing issues fiction or find another writing group. Twice. Then they refunded my and my partner’s membership fees. (Apparently writing disability fiction is contagious or something.) So this issues novel is inspiring, giving me hope for the publishing profession and readers.
Geek references lighten the tone of the novel, adding humor and flavor. For example, Mina’s dream is to have a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Pity she can’t spell ‘Aragorn’. [Hard stare.] Is it too hard to check on IMDB or Wikipedia or one of the million LotR fan sites? [Evil grin]
When Michael Met Mina aims at being a YA version of When Harry Met Sally although it’s much shorter (thank god). As a cultural expose, the story works although Abdel-Fattah tries too hard to be fair towards the anti-refugee people. Mina’s only points of difference seem to be her ethnic heritage and means of arrival in Australia. A little like Alex and Eve, When Michael Met Mina is a definitively Australian romance. Highly recommended.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback, 360 pages
Imprint: Pan Australia (Pan Macmillan)
Teenage & Young Adult Fiction / Young Adult