Blog Tour: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Randa Abdel-Fattah was born in Sydney in 1979. She is a Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage. She grew up in Melbourne and attended a Catholic primary school and Islamic secondary college. Randa has worked as a lawyer, human rights advocate and community volunteer with different human rights and migrant and refugee resource organisations. Randa has used her opinion editorials in newspapers and TV and radio media appearances as a medium for expressing her views about racism, multiculturalism, human rights, the occupation of Palestine and asylum seekers. She is a regular guest at schools around Australia addressing students about her books and the social justice issues they raise. Randa has also been a guest at international writer’s festivals. She recently completed her PhD in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University, researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia. Randa lives in Sydney with her husband and three children. She has just released her latest novel, When Michael Met Mina, which was inspired by her PhD fieldwork examining issues of race in Australia.

Find Randa on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook  |  twitter

Q&A with Randa

Boat Refugees!  What a contentious issue! What kind of research was involved in writing When Michael Met Mina?

I based my book on my own fieldwork (I wrote it while researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia as part of a PhD in Sociology) my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates.

If you conduct any interviews of boat refugees, could you please share one particular story that touched you?

I spoke to a refugee advocate who told me about a young man who turned 18 while he was still studying (he was in community detention). The Department of Immigration told him he had to leave school. They also moved him from youth accommodation to a boarding house where the other residents were older men with alcohol and drug-related problems. The school principal encouraged the boy to remain in school even though Immigration was no longer funding his education. The principal did not realise how short of money he was and that he was not paying his train fares to come to school (in community detention people get a very small allowance). He was caught on the train without a ticket and sent back to Villawood.

Then there was this story: a Palestinian – Iraqi family who came by boat. The advocate helped prevent the Immigration Department from forcing the oldest daughter to leave school (policy once they turn 18 regardless of where they are in their studies).

What particular policies (proposed or otherwise) in Australian politics which are of ‘Aussie Values’ that you think are misconceptions?  What are these misconceptions and what are the facts?

There are misconceptions and there is the racism that structures and inspires a certain way of thinking and emotional posture in relation to multiculturalism, refugees and non-Anglo Australia. First and foremost, the idea of policing ‘our borders’ and deciding who we will allow to come in etc is based on a fundamental erasure of indigenous sovereignty. It is denied. It is taken for granted that all of us–the White dominant majority and ‘everybody  else’– have the right to police Australia’s borders because of a racist presumption of White sovereignty over indigenous sovereignty. Everything else stems from that. As for misconceptions, I don’t even know if that is the right word. There are straightforward facts available to anybody willing to do a Google search regarding all the economic claims around refugees (i.e. they take our jobs/they get more welfare etc). So I’d call it wilful ignorance. Then there are the claims that there is a global ‘queue’, that people get on boats and risk their lives to take advantage of ‘our way of life’, that refugees have values that ‘threaten our values’, that they would set themselves on fire in order to emotionally blackmail us and so on. I don’t see these as misconceptions. There is something nasty and racist and dark at work here which has taken shape over years of strong political and media work to demonise refugees.

Could you provide some practical advices to a teen / young adult on how to influence above change in policies?

Oh yes definitely! Politicians aren’t stupid. If our border policies were unpopular and didn’t win votes, they’d be the first in line to shut down detention centres.  So politicians need to know that their policies are not supported. That means lobbying your local MP, being part of campaigns that counter the dangerous narratives that get widely disseminated. Use as many platforms as possible: social media, vlogs, the arts, op eds, music, story-telling.

Randa’s latest book

when michael met mina

When Michael Met Mina

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.

My Blurb

Do you ever stop being a refugee? Even if at some point in your life the place of refuge becomes home?

Wow! was my first thought when I saw the description for this book. Refugees, especially boat refugees, caused such furore in Australian politics and everybody has an opinion. It’s good that everyone has thoughts about this but sometimes, they need to look a little bit harder, deeper, and further! I’m actually looking at this book with a little trepidation because being a stereotypical Asian, I don’t like confrontation (avoid it like that plague!) even when it’s in books.

Presenting views from different people (pros and cons and everything in between), When Michael Met Mina demands the readers to think also for themselves. What is the right thing to do? And one thing that struck me from Q&A above is Randa’s comment on wilful ignorance ; this phrase has been stuck in my head for a month now because I thought it’s something that’s wrong but is remedial if only you’d take the steps and of course, also because I’m guilty (in some aspects).  Do not live with your head in the sand and parrot others (even those you look up to), do your own research and speak your own unique thoughts.

I find myself infuriated on one page, teary on another, and smiling on the next one. Written in the perspectives of teenagers from both ‘sides of the fence’, When Michael Met Mina seeks to inform and to encourage the young to form their own views based on genuine hard facts. An absolute gem of a read with real life issues & implications, this book speaks not only to your heart but also to your mind.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: The Twisted Knot

The Twisted Knot
The Twisted Knot by J.M. Peace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I’m still on a high from A Time to Run which was such an amazing thriller. I knew book 2, The Twisted Knot won’t be in the same boat because really, she cannot be a victim year after year! However, this was still a very good read in a somewhat different way. It’s still a mystery/crime book but Sammi Willis is now a Constable doing the investigation rather than a victim on the run.

I love the Australian flavour of this novel; set in a small town in the state of sunny Queensland. You would’ve thought a small town to be a safe place for everyone and for the children to run free but the reality is, it’s not that safe anywhere. In Angel’s Crossing, a devastating secret is about to be unearthed and the public is demanding justice to be served. The police aren’t able to act on baseless rumours though and as the people are getting restless, they cannot just sit on the by-lines. Nevertheless, it seems justice will be served one way or another.

The ending was fascinating especially noting the author, J.M. Peace is currently serving as a police officer. Despite this fact, however, she is also a natural person and a mother with her own private views. We have to appreciate the fact that police officers may have different personal views but are there to enforce and uphold the laws which sometimes fail the public.

I’d recommend this book to all crime/mystery lovers. The author definitely knows this world professionally and have brought it, realistically, into fiction for readers to enjoy. I’d love to see what Sammi will get up to in the next book!

If you’ve interested, you can find an extract for chapter 1, here.

Thanks to Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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Review: Journey’s End

Journey's End
Journey’s End by Jennifer Scoullar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jennifer Scoullar did not disappoint with her latest instalment. I’d expected lots of environmental titbits and I definitely got that and more! This time, even as she’s garnering support for the regeneration of Australian nature, she’s also explored elsewhere for a little. I’ve read 3 of her novels so far and each contained different animals to be appreciated and preserved. I think I’ve enjoyed Journey’s End most because of the chosen animal here is closer to my personal preference. I know I’m being very vague but I’m trying to stick to what the book blurb tells you.

Aside from the particular species featured in this book, I also really liked that another culture was brought into the mix. A culture that is currently not-so-popular. Even if Scoullar didn’t particular delve deep into this, she’s brought up the fact that we should never judge a person by their looks / nationality. There is a lot of misguidance / misconceptions in the world spread by hatred and the only way out, is to dig deep and learn the truth.

Kim Sullivan is easily likeable and despite understanding her grief etc, there were times where she was just so frustrating. Nevertheless, I haven’t ever been in her position so I’m also a bit conflicted about how much sympathy I should have for her and whether I should be feeling guilty about being frustrated of her not moving on. Thankfully, that’s not my job and all I had to do was cheer for the other characters when expressed their thoughts!

Journey’s End is a novel full of grief, prejudice, relationships and life while exploring the beauty of natural ecological systems. It is an easy book to get into but it’s really a light chick-lit sort of reading. My warning to you: Be prepared to be touched and get teary…

Thanks to Penguin Books Australia for copy eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: Legacy of Kings

Legacy of Kings
Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legacy of Kings is not a book I’d normally pick up but as it was received in a goodie bag from Harlequin AU (thanks very much!!), I gave it a go anyway. And… I’m so glad I did! I NEED book 2 right now! Thankfully, I don’t think I have long to wait at all.

This was slow to start especially with the multiple POVs as the storytelling moved each chapter to different POVs. As usual, the problem with multiple POVs is how the readers developed a preferred attachment to some characters and get frustrated with the other POVs in between. This was an issue at the beginning but by the end of the book, I LOVE ALL the characters; even Cynane, the crazy cat!

The mystery was fairly easy to guess but the suspense as we follow the characters in uncovering them was exciting. Of course, the battle was also very thrilling. It was also a joy to immerse myself in an ancient world so widely different from today’s day-to-day living and beliefs.

Legacy of Kings is a world shrouded in conspiracies and betrayals but in such adversity, one finds love and loyalty are all the more fierce. It’s a fairly clean YA fantasy historical fiction with a touch of romance and is quite easy to read. All you have to do is get used to the switching of POVs for the first half the book and you’ll enjoy the read.

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Review: Raelia

Raelia
Raelia by Lynette Noni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have enjoyed this second instalment of The Medoran Chronicles much better. I think this is due to the fact that I’m rather over the “Harry Potter X Narnia X X-Men” comparison and so, was not trying to actually do any comparisons! I felt more relaxed and was able to appreciate this tale on its own merit.

Alexandra Jennings continued to live up to her sassy attitude though really she’s a very loving and caring personality. Yet again, she can’t help being talented at things she’d rather not and plunging into troubles when she’s rather avoid them. Nevertheless, her courage, perseverance, and faith in her friends carried her through. The hint of romance, of course, is not misplaced! I am awaiting Draekora with bated breath!

An epic-ly FUN read guaranteed, whether you’re sunbathing at the pool or on the commute to work facing a dreary day. It will lighten up your day and bring a bit of magic to your outlook for the day.

Thanks to Pantera Press for copy eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: My Career Goes Bung

My Career Goes Bung
My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read My Brilliant Career a while ago and was happy to leave Sybylla Melvyn where she was (though I was informed the movie ending differs! I’ve still yet to watch it). There has not been many encouraging reviews for My Career Goes Bung either so I did not actually put the book on my tbr list. However, I’ve recently read Miles Franklin biography, Stella Miles Fraklin: A Biography and my curiosity was piqued. Both books were meant to be fiction but were apparently close enough to her own life that it was rather like an autobiography though it was denied as such by the author herself. From, her biography, I found that Miles Franklin to be an admirable woman of strength who formed her own opinions and stuck true to herself. There were, of course, some decisions which sounded strange but she was a rather unique personality.

Despite the not-so-good reviews for this particular book, I have actually enjoyed it. I had to keep in mind that this book was written immediately after My Brilliant Career was published though it was not published until 1946 (the foreword in my edition noted; “The spectre of libel actions loomed too large and Robertson [publisher] at that time had no choice but to refuse publication.”) so it was still a very young Miles Franklin who wrote this book. The thoughts on women and their places in society were the reflection of a young intelligent woman rather than a bitter unmarried lady (she seemed a little bitter later on in her biography). It was glaringly obvious that Sybylla was seeking to be her own self and to enjoy her writing without having to oblige to society’s demand of marriage. She was also capably independent though somewhat naive so there were some chuckles over her encounters with men.

I don’t particularly understand any woman’s wish to stay unmarried but that is a matter of personal preferences and we each differ in so many ways. I do, however, understand that repressiveness portrayed by Sybylla Melvyn of being shackled by society’s expectation of a woman and her wish to dislodge these old conceptions. She, like Miles Franklin herself, is a modern woman alive in the cusp of old-to-new age and was born to fight so we women can be where we are today.

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Review: The Other Side of Summer

The Other Side of Summer
The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I seem to encounter a lot of grief in my YA readings the past month. I am wondering whether I am being particularly sensitive as I didn’t really notice this much grief previously. I’m not struggling with it myself at the present so I’m not quite sure what’s really going on! Maybe the universe is telling me to brace up or something…

This is one of the books included in the goodie bag from TeenCon 2016 (Sydney Writer’s Festival) in the form of an Uncorrected Proof which did have some corrections to be done. From the title and cover alone, I did not pick this as a tragedy driven sort of book. It looked kind of ‘summery’ to me but Summer is actually the name of the girl. I guess it could’ve described who she really was before tragedy struck and grief rent everything asunder.

Her parents are struggling with their own sadness though her mother seemed to have drowned and unable to help the rest of the family. Her father is doing his best and by this, he is transplanting them to a new place on the far side of the world. Things went quite awry and Summer felt her old self buried deeper inside of her. There was someone else who needed her help though… but he was a mystery she needed to solve with help from an unlikely corner.

Summer is about 12-13 years old in this story so this book is suitable for the younger audience. There was a particular bit about Wren which I found totally curious in being inserted in this story and which parents may wish to be aware of in case it sparks some interesting questions aside from the grief theme. Otherwise, I found the book to be completely satisfying, sad and a bit angry but also sweet.

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