Book Review: When Michael Met Mina – Randa Abdel-Fattah

When-Michael-Met-Mina-Book-Review-Randa-Abdel-Fattah

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
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

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.

Review

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.

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43 thoughts on “Book Review: When Michael Met Mina – Randa Abdel-Fattah

  1. Great review! This is a topic we all need to discuss about, now more than ever. I think it’s incredibly important to give refugees a voice in literature, but I’m a little worried that the focus is more on Michael. Do you think the story still gave Mina and her family enough time in the spotlight given the overall theme of the novel?

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  2. Wow, what a relevant and topical book for this day and age. I really wonder how the two characters end up, and what sort of things they both had to endure in order to understand each other. I also want to see how Michael changes within the book, although I feel as if it would be nicer to see things from Mina’s perspective as well. Especially because we don’t get to see a lot of that in the real world.

    Did you feel like you were able to sympathize with one or both of the characters? Or was it difficult because their lives are much different from your own?

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    • The book didn’t have a suuuuper neat ending, if that helps – certain things are left up in the air, but I think that’s pretty realistic as I can’t see things being solved just like that. *snaps fingers* 😛

      Hmm… I would say that it’s really easy to sympathise with both, though to be honest Michael’s mindset was easier for me to get into just because I could see a little bit of myself in him. Tthe whole “are your views really your own views, or are they your parents’ views?” thing resonated with me and is something that I still struggle with today (though not about this particular issue).

      Mina’s story, meanwhile, was just really, really sad, but it’s also one I’ve heard about before in news stories and such.

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      • Oooh, I actually really dislike it when all loose ends are tied up and the ending is a bit too perfect… It never seems realistic!

        I still have trouble, myself with my parents views, and where it overlaps with my own… This book looks fantastic, and I can’t wait to give it a read 🙂

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        • I think for me it depends on the book – some stories demand a bit more resolution than others, personally. But with this particular one, the loose-ish ending works, so I ain’t complaining!

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with that, but also sorry to hear that it’s trouble for you. It’s definitely not easy knowing where they end and where you begin, is it? 😂

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  3. What a great review, thank you so, so much for sharing! And I didn’t know that book existed just until now, so thanks for bringing it to light as well! ❤ I think it's good to see a book dealing with this kind of issue, after all it is so, well, accurate these years that someone has to talk about it in books, and especially in young adult ones. I am a bit sad to hear about the insta-love, but I am definitely keeping that book on my radar 🙂

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  4. This is a great review Reg, and I think like you until I read the blurb this book wasn’t really on my radar you know, but now it definitely is and the quotes you posted as well are amazing.
    I feel like this is probably going to be a deep book more than a light and fluffy read. In spite of the love story which I’m guessing is told I imagine the theme of refugees is one that has a strong voice in this book, which I think sounds a little more interesting. It would probably have been easy to push that to the background and focus on Michael and Mina instead, but it’s nice to see more diverse books out there.
    It’s a shame about the insta-love angle, I’m never really a fan of that trope which i think you probably know well by now 🙂 but either way this sounds like an amazing book, I’ll definitely be picking it up soon! 😀

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    • Thanks, Beth! Yeah, the title didn’t really give anything away and the cover, unless you look closely, seems cute but nothing else. 😛

      For a book with heavy themes, it’s actually quite a light-hearted read (although frustrating sometimes because of the racist characters)! I’d say though that while the love story does soften the political discussion, at the heart of it this is very much more a political book than a romance.

      I’m not a fan of insta-love myself but I’d say this one is forgivable! Or, well, the issues being talked about are important enough that I’m willing to dismiss it and move on and not nitpick, haha. Can’t wait for you to read it – I think it’s a very relevant book that needs to be more heard. 🙂

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      • I wouldn’t have guessed looking at either the title or the cover that it covered such broad topics you know. It definitely seems cute at first glance.
        I guess it’s good it doesn’t get too bogged down with the heavy themes, I mean it’s nice that it’s still a little light-hearted but it’s really good that it doesn’t discount the political themes either.
        In that case hopefully I’ll find it forgivable as well, I haven’t really read many books that feature insta-love that I’ve thought were realistic you know.
        I’ll be sure to pick it up soon then, I get what you mean about it being relevant though. 🙂

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        • For sure! It must be noted though that the characters in this book ARE mostly about the politics – they have way more political discussions than people generally do in real life (at least in my experience), and that might come across as unrealistic to some people. I didn’t mind it much though because the message is definitely important, and we need books like this. 🙂

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          • Ehh, me and my friends tend to have political conversations at times depending if there’s something happening in our lives that affects us like that (you should have heard some of our conversations are Brexit!)
            I think it’s great we have books that deal with topics like there, there definitely seems to be more around now than there were a few years ago but we still need more I agree! 😀

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            • My friends and I too! I think it’s just that every dialogue you get to listen to in this book is political, so it almost feels like that’s all they talk about. Can’t imagine what it was like for you when Brexit was decided… even here we discussed it quite a lot. 😛

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              • Oh OK, I don’t just talk about political stuff with my friends, we have a variety of different topics we’ll talk about in any given evening.
                It was strange, no one expected it to go the way it did and of course when everyone found out we were leaving it was an uproar. Very surreal actually!

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                • Yeah, I was SO surprised as well – I’m not generally into politics and don’t really follow world news, but with things like this you gotta be in the know, haha. So I was following it on Reddit and stuff and it was craaaazy when it happened. Has anything changed with it – like do you feel a “before” and “after” in your daily life?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • It’s like with the upcoming US presidential elections, even if you’re not into politics you still follow the major stories just because they are such major stories.
                    I haven’t noticed any difference at all. Obviously the day after was a little weird because everyone was freaking out and the pound dropped in value dramatically but everything seems to have calmed down a little now. It’s kind of a whole we’re out so we have to make the best of it deal.
                    Something my friend has been saying, and I agree with her on this, is that Brexit could be the best thing that happens to us as a country, we just have to wait and see. 🙂

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                    • OMG, the US elections are crazy, haha. I’m on Reddit a lot and every day there’s a thread or story about Trump. 😛

                      I can imagine! My cousin is moving to London in a month or so and she was closely following the Brexit story. Changes like this are definitely not immediate, and I really hope it ends up being really good for the country.

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                    • Yeah I’m seeing a lot of it on Tumblr, people don’t seem to imagine Trump could become president but then again no one imagined Brexit would happen so you never know do you.
                      God definitely not immediate. Last I heard I don’t think we’d actually end up leaving the EU until 2019, there’s a lot to sort out in the mean time! 🙂

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                    • I’m the same actually, the thing is people keep saying he’ll never become president but based on how far he’s gotten there’s a good possibility he could be, and that’s kind of scary!
                      Hopefully the Americans will learn by what happened with Brexit.

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  5. I have been hearing bits and pieces about this book, but you have convinced me. I seriously NEED to read it. It is depressingly relevant right now. That there are YA authors tackling these sorts of subjects makes me so happy.

    Thank you for the amazing review!

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    • I really, really hope you read it! It’s not a very big title internationally, I think, and it might come across as preachy at times but I think the themes are very relevant and important. Definitely worth a read. 🙂

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  6. I skimmed this review some time ago, but now I’ve finally had a chance to sit down and read it top to bottom. And WOW. I MUST READ.
    New Zealand is getting similar discourse too. I mean, New Zealand has xenophobia entrenched in its short history (lmaaooooo), so.
    But yes, wow, this book. I need. And I’m not turned off by the political element at all – I like a book that carries important dialogue and can become an avenue for even more dialogue.

    Okay. I am pushing this right up to my TBR. And now to find a copy of the book! Thank you for this incredible review, Reg!

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    • YOU MUST READ. I think I’ve read reviews that say this book is a bit preachy, but I think it tries quite hard to present both sides of the argument (though it’s also clear which side is the ‘correct’ one, so to speak).

      I hope you get to this book soon, CW! And I can’t wait to see what you think. ❤

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