When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah is a powerful novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.
When Michael meets Mina, they’re 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.
When I was sent a copy of When Michael Met Mina from the lovely people over at Pan Macmillan, I didn’t really know what to expect. From the synopsis, I gathered that it might be rather political. Previously, I’ve tried to steer clear of politics all together because it can often be very dry, however in recent times, particularly the last few weeks as the election loomed closer in Australia, I’ve found myself finding more of an interest in researching particular party policies and thinking about who I would vote for in alignment with my own values and beliefs. And today of all days, I feel that this discussion is especially important. Yes, it’s the Australian election day. So I would just like to take this moment to not name-drop any political parties because this is a book review which celebrates the power and poignancy of Randa Abdel-Fattah’s novel, When Michael Met Mina. Instead, I would like to talk a bit about why everyone, regardless of age, gender or location, should read this novel and why there should be more YA novels that include political themes.
The thing I was most worried about when I opened up this novel was that it would be too political and overly preachy about one certain political party that upholds the beliefs of the author. While I could gather from the synopsis that Abdel-Fattah is not someone who would be shoving the narrow-minded and archaic far right-wing views down my throat and I felt that we would both share similar opinions to do with the Australian asylum seeker policies, I was cautious that other readers who don’t share a similar stance might feel as though this book is nothing but another election campaign. But what surprised me most was that Abdel-Fattah never directly told us her own beliefs, rather showed us the beliefs of the characters and through the progression of the novel, enabling readers to feel as though they were in a better position to judge the current asylum seeker policy and understand what they would like to see happen in the future.
It goes without saying that I definitely share Mina’s views in the novel. From the very beginning, I knew that she would be a person I related to and agreed with, even though I didn’t have the same background or experiences as her. Mina came to Australia by boat, seeking asylum from her home of Afghanistan, which is war-torn and no longer safe for her. I definitely feel that this kind of a backstory for Mina was necessary in communicating the ideas that Australia should open its borders to more asylum seekers, should drastically change the way detention centres operates, and should not look down upon those who come to Australia for refuge in the way that makes these people feel like they aren’t really a part of the Australian community. Mina’s past made her story even more powerful and compelling. This novel just wouldn’t have had the same effect if the idea of opening up Australia to more asylum seekers and refugees came from an upper-middle class white Australian teenager. Now that could feel like ideal-shoving. But it was Mina’s life and experiences that enabled us to understand why she believes what she does and how she’s fighting for what she believes in for the sake of not only other asylum seekers, but also to assert her place in the Australian community and stand tall and proud, unafraid to vocalise her concerns and ideals for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of people who are silenced by groups like Aussie Values.
Mina was such a strong and brave character, and one that I really loved getting to know. It was heartbreaking to see her getting bullied by people at her school and feeling attacked by a large portion of the Australian community. Honestly, some of the things characters said about asylum seekers, and even Mina in particular, made me feel physically sick. While we were given an insight into what people like Mina, unfortunately, are made to suffer through because of the intolerance and ignorance of others, I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like for people in Mina’s situation. While we can sympathise all we like, the sad fact is that a lot of us will never be able to fully place themselves in the shoes of asylum seekers, but despite that, I think that recognising the pain that so many Australians put these people through is a big step forward. Then, and only then, can we begin to change. And it was beautiful to see a bit of that through the character Michael.
Michael has lived in Australia his whole life and his parents are the founding members of the political party Aussie Values. The message of this particular party is one that disgusts me — that refugees are ‘jumping the queue’, overpopulating cities, taking jobs away from ‘more deserving’ Aussies and do not assimilate the Australian culture. While Mina did show a lot of character development in the way she was eventually able to stand up to the people who bullied her and treated her as though she were less of an Australian than them, it was Michael’s development that was the highlight of this novel. In the beginning, Michael accepts his parents’ political views simply because he didn’t really question them. Until he met Mina, he was blindly following his parents around and playing the role of the ‘perfect son’ to their political campaign. His questioning of the legitimacy of his parents’ fears that asylum seekers would, effectively, overrun Australia or that they should be denied the fundamental right of practicing their own religious beliefs and should instead adopt a religion that would help them blend in to the general Australian community was by far the most satisfying aspect of When Michael Met Mina. I absolutely loved watching him start to form his own opinions and make things right with Mina after disrespecting her, because there’s nothing that warms my heart more than people who transcend from their base state of ignorance to become someone who refuses to blend in with the crowd and blindly agrees with what the most vocal groups in the community are.
It might sound like that When Michael Met Mina is nothing more than a political novel, but while the politics do make up a large portion of it and is one of the overriding themes of the text, the importance of family and friendship that are portrayed cannot be overlooked. Another one of my favourite parts of this book was the emphasis that is placed on the effect your own family has in shaping you as a person, and this can be clearly seen through the character of Michael. Which is another reason why I urge everyone to go out and pick up a copy of this book, because I really feel like reading things like this and finding information from credible, unbiased sources allows people to form their own political views, instead of being influenced by the people they spend the most time with. But that’s not all family is used to illustrate in this novel. Both Michael and Mina’s family have a large presence, which is great to see because parents in YA fiction are all too often absent. I loved seeing the family dynamics and how Michael and Mina’s parents were both there for them and provided support to them, but in very different ways.
I also loved seeing the friendships both Michael and Mina formed, not only with each other, but with those around them. Perhaps my proudest moment for Michael was when he finally got rid of some toxic people from his life and took a stand for what he believed in. And, of course, I have to mention the love between Michael and Mina. While it did come across as a bit insta-love-y at first, I definitely became more and more fond of their relationship as the novel progressed and it was beautiful to see the development in Michael that Mina was the catalyst for. Although some could read that as Mina being nothing more than a character to prompt Michael’s growth, I feel as though both characters helped one another and they complimented one another perfectly, not completed the other.
Overall, When Michael Met Mina is a powerful and moving book about politics, standing up for what your believe in, and finding the courage to voice your own views, even when everyone else around you seems to disagree. This is the type of novel that’ll linger in your mind for weeks afterwards, cause you to question the authenticity of your own beliefs, and will make you want to recommend it to strangers in a bookstore.
Let’s discuss this book! Were you lucky enough to receive a copy from Pan Macmillan too? Are you participating in the blog tour? Have you come across many other political YA books? Are you a fan of politics? Do you think this is the type of book you’d recommend to your friends and family? I’d love to know!
Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Check out the other stops in the #Michael4Mina blog tour!