Title: Huda and Me
Author: H. Hayek
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 30th March 2021
Synopsis: A cheeky, fun and fast-moving tale of two Lebanese-Australian kids who decide to escape their horrible babysitter by running away…to the other side of the world.
Huda’s sitting in the airport lounge, fiddling with our tickets. I can tell she’s excited because she has a little smile on her face and she keeps glancing at her pink digital watch. I can’t believe we’re doing this. I can’t believe we’re running away from home. Well, we’re not really running away. We’ll come back. We’re running to our parents. On the other side of the world.
When their parents have to travel to Beirut unexpectedly, twelve-year-old Akeal and his six siblings are horrified to be left behind in Melbourne with the dreaded Aunt Amel as their babysitter. Things do not go well, and Akeal’s naughty little sister, Huda, hatches a bold plan to escape. After stealing Aunt Amel’s credit card to buy plane tickets to Lebanon, Huda persuades her reluctant favourite brother to come with her. So begins Huda and Akeal’s hair-raising and action-packed journey to reunite with their parents half a world away, in a city they’ve grown up dreaming about but have never seen.
A fresh and funny story of sibling love, adventure and courage, Huda and Me is one of a kind.
When Huda and Akeal’s parents head over to Lebanon, leaving them with Aunt Amel, things start to go wrong. Nobody is happy, and the siblings are desperate for things to change, and to be able to go to school. All except the baby Raheed are forced to work all day and night to accommodate Aunt Amel – until Huda stands up to her and hatches a plan for her and Akeal to go to Lebanon to tell their parents, but to do so, they need to find a way to get past harried airline employees and through the streets of Lebanon! Can they do it, and will their parents believe them?
Huda and Me uses alternating chapters between the journey to Lebanon, and what led to it for most of the novel, and this works well to establish what happened and why, as it allows us great insight into Huda and Akeal’s world, and lives as Muslims in Australia. It also shows the power of sibling relationships, and the toxicity of some people, and how others react to them and what they do. There is a sense of rebelliousness about this book, but in light of what happens, it is a necessary and entertaining rebellion that illustrates the power of familial and sibling love, and the desire to help each other.
The contrast between Australia and Lebanon is stark, and to Akeal and Huda, it is a cultural shock, but it shows the delightful and realistic contrast of cultures and what is normal to those in Lebanon, versus what we know in Australia. It also shows that everyone, wherever they are, will have different experiences based on their own backgrounds, and celebrates the diversity of Australia through the eyes of a Muslim family, encountering both acceptance and friendship – Martin, and discrimination later on. It is a learning process, to show that Muslims are not the stereotypes we’re told, and shows that it is not that hard to learn how to be a decent person to those different to you. It is a touching story about family and acceptance.
Huda and Akeal’s journey is exciting and scary – what kid hasn’t dreamed about going on a holiday on their own? Huda has thought of everything and the depth and intricacy of her plan comes out slowly throughout the novel, as we learn more about how Aunt Amel is acting and treating the kids whilst their parents are away. It is thrilling to read and find out if Huda and Akeal pull their adventure off, and how – and what will happen when – or if – they finally get to their parents, and how Aunt Amel’s story will be resolved. Even though this is more of a background story, there are hints early on that suggest she’s up to something sinister, but what? And why has she agreed to babysit Akeal and his siblings? Just how much will she luxate the family, and put everything they know out of joint?
Books like this are a great entrée into a world of diversity, giving just enough for context and creation of the setting and characters, but also, allowing readers the space to think about the concepts, and go away and research themselves. Huda and Me also allows readers to gain empathy for people not like them – and shows them that the differences we see are usually only on the surface, that deep down, we can find something that unites us and brings us together as a team. It is the differences and these basic human similarities that make us who we are and ensure that everyone is human. Not everyone is perfect – we are all flawed, and this book focuses on the flaws and everything else. I loved this book, and its ability to create empathy for people very different to me, and also, introducing me to a world I do not know. It will be useful in many areas of education – English, History, Religion and Social Studies, to explore many different themes.
This was a beautiful book – filled with diversity and wonder, and a journey across the world that is both fun and dangerous, yet at the same time, filled with anticipation of what is to come. It celebrates everything about family that we can all relate to, and shows what it means to be Muslim, especially to Akeal. It also celebrates a sibling relationship that is powerful, and drives the narrative so clearly, that any siblings of any background can see themselves in this, but also gives Muslim kids a chance to see themselves in fiction, and this is a wonderful thing for all readers as we embrace diversity, and learn about other cultures whilst also recognising things that we see in ourselves and our own families.
This sweet, touching insight into a Muslim family is a great read, and one that will be well-received, as it allows children to explore the themes in it in a safe way, and has a reassuring sense throughout the novel, and shows kids that it is okay and good to stand up for themselves and what is right – even if in this instance they had to go halfway across the world!