Thursday, 29 January 2015

Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn

Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn is a contemporary YA novel about an Egyptian-American girl whose father sends her to stay with her grandmother in Egypt after she gets into (normal teenager) trouble at home.
When my first party ends in jail, I think things can’t possibly get worse. But then my parents send me to my grandmother in Cairo, and I’m sure my life is over. My sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and I’m sure the only sites I’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her apartment.

Turns out she’s not so bad. We ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.

As Sittu says, “Sometimes a moment can change your life.” But it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, I find myself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.

Oh yeah, and I meet the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. Fall in love for the first time. And have my first kiss.
I have some mixed feelings about this novel, I think mostly stemming from the fact that I don't read a huge number of non-speculative contemporary YA. The story starts with Mariam in jail because the party she went to with her best friend, Deanna, was busted by police. Her somewhat conservative father panics and decides to ship her (and Deanna) off to Egypt to stay with his mother. Mariam has spent her life hearing stories about how horribly strict her grandmother (sittu) is and expects to spend her whole time in Egypt locked inside and not allowed to do anything. Her friend is much more optimistic and excited about trip.

They get to Egypt a couple of days before the 25th of January 2011, which is when a revolution began (you might remember seeing it on the news, particularly when the internet was cut off). Anyway, when the girls arrive, they are confronted by a more oppressive environment than Mariam was prepared for but also a more liberal grandmother.

This is a type of coming-of-age story, although perhaps "accepting yourself" is a more accurate description. Mariam feels out of place in New York where most of the other kids at school are racist and mean and the teachers are often unintentionally (or so it seemed to me) racist. Growing up in the US post-9/11, she doesn't feel that being Muslim or Egyptian is anything to be proud of and she just wants to fit in and be normal. Having her parents send her away for going to a party does not strike her as something that will help her fit in.

In Egypt Mariam learns a lot more about her sittu than she learnt from her father's reminiscences and learns to be proud of being Egyptian. The title is probably a bit stronger than actual events in the book, but it has a nice ring to it. Suffice to say the protests that kick-off the revolution play a part in the story. The "mixed feelings" I mentioned at the start of the review are mostly over the ending, so I won't spell them out here.

One last thing I want to mention that I wasn't particularly expecting is Deanna's disability. She is unable to move the muscles in her face which govern facial expression (I think from birth), so she can't smile or frown, etc. Deanna and Mariam partly bonded over the fact that they're both weird outsiders as far as the other kids at school are concerned, and it means that although it's for different reasons, Deanna can empathise a lot with Mariam's self-loathing. The fact that Deanna comes from a very different background (single, liberal, lawyer mother) provides a nice counterpoint to Mariam's family background.

I highly recommend Rebels by Accident to fans of contemporary YA and in particular anyone looking for a good diverse read would do well to give this one a shot.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2014, Sourcebooks Fire (First published 2012)
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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