Review Blog

Apr 15 2019

You must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

cover image

Penguin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780143788515.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Diversity, Multicultural Australia, Muslims, Migrants, Humour, Schools. How refreshing to hear an authentic voice telling of her experiences as part of a group in today's Australia. The whole point of the book is that people are judged not by who they are but how they appear, what they wear and what they believe, and this causes distrust on both sides.
The title says it all: You must be Layla, an assumption based around her clothing, not the welcome to the new school that Layla was expecting, especially after an ignorant school chairman warns her that putting one step wrong will have her scholarship terminated. From there her first day in this highly regarded private school sees Layla suspended after headbutting a boy, Peter, who repeatedly pushes her and calls her names. But the supportive Tech teacher steers her towards a competition which she could enter, using her highly developed skills to make a robot. She puts her effort into this scheme, hoping to vindicate herself in the eyes of the school and furthering her aim to be an inventor.
Meanwhile making friends in her new school is tricky and she hangs out with several boys who are very funny, take her as she is, loud and forthright, nicknaming her Queen Layla.
At home her parents are most supportive, although her brother has some issues finding a job when no one will give him a start. And her mother advises that the trick to resolving the differences with someone who headbutted you is to ask forgiveness. Forgiveness must be given on both sides and this advice comes in handy at the climax of the book.
Layla is a smart, sometime headstrong young woman, sure of herself and her abilities, ready to prove to everyone at her new school that she has a place there. She works away at her project, worried that her friend Ethan seems to be upset, but at the competition she must make some compromises to remain in as part of Peter's team.
This is a generous book, woven throughout we see a working Muslim family and their beliefs, Layla's clothing and their customs. Without realising it, the reader will come away with more information than they expected, learning along the way that Layla and her family are an Australian family like all of us, part of our unique migrant experience.
Fran Knight

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