This review does not contain spoilers.
It’s hard enough to be cool as a teenager when being one issue behind on the latest Cosmo disqualifies you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and getting in the ‘bum’s up’ position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time.
Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde and gorgeous, has got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate.
And I thought I had problems …
Back when I was much younger and the internet was a much smaller place, Does My Head Look Big in This? opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t understand. It may still serve that purpose for some people. But on my second read, I noticed one large flaw with this book—and it’s one of my pet peeves.
There’s almost no plot to speak of.
Some novels can get away with this because the characters are so vibrant that they leap off the page and drag you along on their personal journey. But some novels, like this one, are a collection of anecdotes that eventually give way to one large plot point. In this case, that plot point wasn’t even centred on the main character.
This book is very much a product of its time. Set in 2002, the year of the Bali Bombings and just one year after 9/11, Amal has a lot of prejudice to deal with, even in a large multicultural city like Melbourne. Coupled with a typical high school backdrop, it’s the perfect setting for this story. On the lighter side of things, the Australian culture of the early 2000s brings back some vaguely mortifying memories of my childhood. While some Australianisms may escape the understanding of international audiences, the majority of references will transcend borders.
Certain parts reminded me exactly why I loved this book so much the first time around. Unfortunately, the most powerful scenes are undercut by similar and less effective ones. Whole conversations and scenarios are repeated almost verbatim, adding nothing to the plot or the characters. Without the repetition, I think this would have been an incredibly moving and powerful read from start to finish.
After rereading Does My Head Look Big in This? as an adult, I can now see some of its flaws. The characters are not as well-defined as I remember, and the plot is almost non-existent. I think I’m firmly out of the book’s target age range now, but I still found it to be an easy and comfortable read. I’ll always have a soft spot for it because of what it taught me and how it made me feel.