Title: When Michael Met Mina (2016)
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 360 pages
Release Date: July 28, 2016
When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.
Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre. Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.
They want to stop the boats. Mina wants to stop the hate.
When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.
A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.
When Michael Met Mina was a bit of a whim-pick for me. I initially had no plans on reading it until I read the summary and knew, without a doubt, I had to pick it up as soon as possible. As you can probably tell by my rating, I enjoyed it immensely! This book was funny, heartfelt, emotional, and full of really strong messages that I think are incredibly relevant today.
First off the bat, this book is extremely political. This might be a Boy Meets Girl story, but the boy, Michael, is the son of the founders of Aussie Values, an organisation determined to ‘stop the boats’, and the girl, Mina, literally came to Australia by boat. If you’re completely unfamiliar to the issue, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has a very informative fact sheet you can read for a quick overview.
Now, I’m semi-familiar with the refugees issue in Australia so the concepts and arguments aren’t new to me, but those who go in blind might find it a bit confusing at first. There are lots of political discussions in When Michael Met Mina — virtually every character you meet is going to have an opinion about something, and they’re going to very freely let you know.
Here are some passages I’ve highlighted when reading, just to give you an idea, the first one being from Michael’s mum:
“So many young girls in hijab though,” she adds. “And some of them don’t even wear it modestly. Honestly, I think it’s just to make a statement: look at me, I’m different.”
Here’s one from Michael’s dad:
“It’s simple economics, Michael,” Dad says. “Refugees take jobs from Australians. They cost a lot in welfare, they compete for our resources and then they bring over their families so the situation is exacerbated. We have an unemployment crisis in this country and accepting more refugees will make it worse.”
Here’s one from Mina’s father — one with an opposite view:
“We refugees are different to immigrants, Mina. The immigrant’s heart is caught between the struggle of wanting to stay or return, return or stay. […] But us? We have been robbed of those choices. I cannot return to my homeland. And so I must simply stay in somebody else’s homeland, as an outsider and a guest. I am the guest who brings a gift of food to their host. Except what I think more and more is that they do not eat the food, they eat us here.”
Here’s one from Mina herself:
I want to tell him that when we were in the camps waiting for a boat we spoke about what we imagined Australia would be like. Kangaroos, koalas, wide open spaces. Then, when we arrived, we were locked up and the images we had shrank smaller and smaller until Australia became tiny patches of sky beyond the barbed wire.
What I’m trying to say is that at the heart of this book is the refugee debate, one that Abdel-Fattah has done a really good job in presenting two sides of the argument for. Michael’s parents believe that Australia should close its borders and deny asylum seekers place in the society — a view that Michael himself has absorbed from his parents without question, at least at the beginning of the book. Mina, on the other hand, came to Australia seeking refuge… the very type of person that Michael’s parents are fighting to stop.
The only real criticism I have is on the storytelling side — that is, for a book with two perspectives, I do feel like this was more Michael’s story than Mina’s. While both of them had distinct personalities and goals, I felt like Mina’s role was much more as a catalyst in Michael’s story rather than a main character, and part of me couldn’t help but to wonder if the story would be stronger if it was 100% Michael’s story, instead of half-and-half like this.
The scariest thing about people like Terrence and my parents is not that they can be cruel. It’s that they can be kind too.
There is also a bit of insta-love in this book, especially on Michael’s part — he noticed Mina literally the first time he saw her, maybe about three or four pages into the story. I managed to get past this because to be fair, Michael didn’t go on declaring his love for her until they knew each other a bit better, and… well, there are just more important things at stake.
For some people in this world, freedom and ordinary aren’t basic rights. They’re luxuries you should never take for granted.
When Michael Met Mina isn’t a difficult book to read, but it was certainly infuriating at times to read about the views some of the characters hold. At the end of the day, though, the story sends a very strong message, one that’s multi-faceted and more complex than just the surface. If you want to pick up an LoveOzYA novel that is incredibly important and utterly relevant, this one is it.