Review: Hate Is Such A Strong Word – Sarah Ayoub

Release Date: September 1st 2013
Published By: Harper Collins Australia
Pages: 256
Goodreads: Add it to your reading list

Rating: 4 out of 5

Synopsis: I hate being invisible.

I hate that I still can′t fight my own battles.

I hate that I can′t keep up with the demands of high school.

Sophie Kazzi is in Year 12 at an all-Lebanese, all-Catholic school where she is invisible, uncool and bored out of her brain. While she′s grown up surrounded by Lebanese friends, Lebanese neighbours and Lebanese shops, she knows there′s more to life than Samboosik and Baklawa, and she desperately wants to find it.

Unfortunately, her father has antiquated ideas about women, curfews and the Lebanese ′way′. Bad news for Sophie, who was hoping to spend Year 12 fitting in and having fun – not babysitting her four younger siblings, or studying for final exams that will land her in an Accounting course she has no interest in.

Just when it looks like Sophie′s year couldn′t get any more complicated, Shehadie Goldsmith arrives at school. With an Australian father and a Lebanese mother, he′s even more of a misfit than Sophie. And with his arrogant, questioning attitude, he also has a way of getting under her skin…

But when simmering cultural tensions erupt in violence, Sophie must make a choice that will threaten her family, friends and the cultural ties that have protected her all her life.

Are her hates and complaints worth it? Or will she let go … and somehow find her place?

Review: Hate Is Such A Strong Word is Sophie’s story. Sophie is an Australian Lebanese girl living in Bankstown, Sydney which is well known for Lebanese communities and enclaves. She is raised by an extremely conservative family who are very strict with Sophie, dictating when she’s allowed to leave the house, for how long, and the company she keeps, believing they are keeping her safe.

Whilst this may be a work of fiction, Hate has a very real background. In 2005, Sydney’s beaches played an unwilling host to the Cronulla Riots, where anglo Australians and Lebanese Australians waged a brutal and intense race war on each other. People were really hurt and it was all we heard on the news for weeks and weeks. It left a lot of tension in these suburbs which has remained until today (although perhaps not at the same intensity). It certainly left an ugly mark on Australian culture and highlighted that even though we’ve come so far, some of us can really still be an ignorant bunch of people at times.

Sophie attends a school for Lebanese Aussies and many of the students at the school have their own racist opinions (racism goes both ways, and I was interested to read from this perspective). Tensions peak after a Lebanese student was attacked by Aussies after a face to face confrontation. And now, to make matters worse, a new student starts attending Sophies school – Shehadie. Half Australian. Half Lebanese. Many of the students can’t accept Shehadie for who he is – he doesn’t belong in the Lebanese community and he becomes a victim of bullying.

Sophie feels like she has a lot in common with Shehadie. Even though both of her parents are Lebanese, she doesn’t feel she belongs in the Lebanese community, and even though she was born in Australia, she doesn’t feel she belongs in the Australian community either.

I really enjoyed Sophie’s character. She has strong convictions, but traditional values and respect for her parents as well as her culture. Whilst she doesn’t agree with her parents in many respects, she still listens to them and is really a pretty good kid overall. I found her frustrating initially because I wanted her to stand up for herself. But Sophie learns some really important lessons throughout this story and she finds her voice and learns to speak up. I felt really proud of her too. It felt like she did a lot of growing up throughout this story.

Shehadie was also a really great character. He has a very sad story, but his is one of resilience and defiance. He holds his head high even though he knows he is not welcome at his new school. He has strong convictions and is assertive. I liked that he had a really cool demeanor about him even during some pretty crappy times.

Ultimately, whilst this a contemporary YA romance at the heart of it there are so many themes within this book. There are issues of cultural identity, wanting to belong, feeling isolated and alone, friendships lost and friendships formed, yearning for independence as you grow up, peer pressure and bullying. So many important issues for teenagers today, no matter what your background is, I think there is a message in this book for us all.

I really enjoyed this book – I love good Aussie YA novels, and Hate is up there with my faves now. Go out and grab a copy when it’s released on September 1st in Australian book stores.

What do you think?

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