Book review: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Title: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Publication date: 28 July 2016

Genre: Contemporary | Young adult

Page extent: 354 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads blurb: Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

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.

Honestly I am so here for all these political activism books I’ve been reading this last month. What a book. This is an absolutely unforgiving, honest, incredible portrayal of refugee politics in Australia.

When Michael met Mina he was on the opposite side of a protest. Accompanying his parents, founders of new political party Aussie Values, Michael is protesting to protect white Australian values – he’s all about stopping those boats, refugees should wait in the queue and all the other racist Australian shit. 

Mina is on the other side. As a refugee from Afghanistan, Mina has lived through entering Australia via boat, and the subsequent detention centre. When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s prestigious school in the Sydney Northern Shores, their paths cross again. Here, Mina faces the aggression and hate that has become everyday and normal for people of colour. Idiot teachers and idiot students dislike that she’s different and strong and fierce and not afraid to show it. She isn’t afraid to hide her views, and will shut you down if she disagrees. She is SO AWESOME.

When Michael Met Mina is a tale about activism and growth. Michael is a product of his upbringing. A classic case of what happens when you just go along with your parents’ beliefs. He’s never questioned their beliefs, or his own, until he meets Mina. The feelings he develops for Mina lead him to question what he’s learned.

He’s a bit of a shithead. I won’t lie, I can’t say I ever really got on board the Michael train. His utter privilege and lack of consideration for Mina as he ‘grew’ as a person and learned how not to be a racist asshat just really made me unable to root for him and the relationship. And if he hadn’t thought Mina was hot and wanted to get to know her….would he ever really have changed, since that was the spark that led to his growth?

“You want me to make it easier for you to confront privilege because God knows even anti-racism has to be done in a way that makes the majority comfortable?”

At the end of the day: Mina deserves so much better. She is such a strong character, such an absolute fighter. She’s so fierce and brilliant and can stand up to people like Michael. I just don’t understand how she could fall for him. Even as he’s changing as a person, he does it in a way that makes it all about him. Not cool, Michael.

The book does however fight stereotypes in a brilliant way – whenever someone makes a comment typical to hear in Australia, it is questioned and fought against. Nothing is ignored, and the book delves deep into some very recognisably Australian values, making it an extremely real and relatable book. It pictures both small and large acts of racism, from the little constant comments and stares, to the physical violence. I also thought the way Michael’s parents were pictured was absolutely spot on – they are nice, kind people. They have a ton of friends. They are cool, calm, and collected. But they’re also racists – and I liked that they were portrayed as such. Not all racists are the stereotypical incel-Nazi. We interact with them everyday. It was excellent to see this portrayal, which is something I don’t think often pictured in books – we usually only get the obvious racist, not the more common calm and polite racist. And really, it could be argued that they are the ones with more power to harm, given how they do often appear so rational and collected, as Michael’s parents did in all their interviews in the book.

When Michael Met Mina is a great story about addressing stereotypes and fighting against racism. But the romance fell short for me as I really didn’t get behind Michael’s problematic behaviour and comments.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

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