A review of You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Reviewed by Emily McDonell

You Must Be Layla
by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
Penguin
5 March 2019, ISBN: 9780143788515, Paperback, 288pgs, $16.99aud

A speedy read, filled with creative ideas, heart-warming character moments and the concept of knowing who you are. You Must Be Layla follows Layla a young Sudanese-Australian girl about to start a new, fancy private school and the challenges she faces and overcomes.

The introduction of Layla’s family and friends was one of my favourite moments whilst reading. I adored meeting these characters and seeing their relationship dynamic, a strong sense of family and love is consistent throughout the text. This aspect also displays Layla’s characteristics beautifully, she is an optimist, with a strong sense of mind and passion and tries to always remain happy. Layla herself, I found as an inspiring character whose narration made me smile and motivated me to look on the bright side, no matter the situation.

The book discusses migrant experience, discrimination and inequality in perfect way for readers who are just starting to read young adult fiction. Inspiring themes and messages are communicated throughout, and these are some of the elements I loved which made me so excited to talk about in this review. The family’s culture and beliefs are portrayed and the language, being Arabic, is also incorporated. I discovered and learnt a lot whilst reading, which I really enjoyed and found to be yet another impressive element in this story.

One specific feature I really loved in the telling of Layla’s story was her passion for what she loves. As we continue to read, we discover her interest in creating, whether it be jewellery or other inventions and robots. I was super excited to see more unique hobbies and interests demonstrated in young adult fiction rather than the typical tropes seen in other fiction works. During the book, we see how some students and teachers treat Layla, this was definitely an eye-opener to me, and I felt it conveyed serious ideas of power and influence in certain cases.

Not only Layla but her family and friends alike, undergo gorgeous character development and we grow to discover more about certain characters pasts and backgrounds, with I felt added another layer of depth and dimension to these side-characters.

For an age bracket specific recommendation, I would say 12+, Abdel-Magied does an excellent job of creating funny, relatable characters and quips whilst still conveying serious themes of racism and migrant experiences. Overall, You Must Be Layla provokes and preaches vital messages and topics, breaks stereotypes and defines the system.

On a slightly unrelated note, the author of this novel, Yassmin Abdel-Magied is an incredible person who is not only an amazing writer but a social advocate/activist and mechanical engineer. She truly does practise what she preaches, and I would encourage you to check out her site and social media.

About the reviewer: Emily McDonell was first prize winner in the Hunter Writers’ Centre/Compulsive Reader book review competition. She is a high school student, an avid reader and has a passion for books. It was clear from a very early age that books would play a large part in her life. Emily has participated in the Premier’s Reading Challenge since starting her schooling and her favourite subject is English. Emily has also been a Girl Guide for the past nine years and is currently working to complete her Queen’s Guide Award. Emily also loves animals especially her dog Jersey.

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