This own voices book for young adults is an engaging and enjoyable read from debut author and winner of the Matilda Prize Samera Kamaleddine.
I love the setting for this book, which takes place on Lame Beach during one unbearably hot summer. The protagonist is sixteen-year-old Layla, who has been told by her Tayta that when she was a baby she was cursed by the evil eye. As a result, Layla has grown up feeling like luck is never on her side.
With a Lebanese father and Australian-born mother, Layla has a feeling of displacement, like she's not sure where she really belongs. In contrast, her cousin Sufia seems to have a strong sense of identity, her loyalty firmly with the 'Cedar Army,' the group of Lebanese kids who hang out every day in the same spot at the beach.
It quickly becomes clear that there are cultural divides between the groups of teenagers hanging out at Lame Beach.
On the other side of the beach are 'the suck ups', the Australian-born, popular kids - including the seemingly perfect Imogen - who seem to have all the luck on their side. There are distinct barriers between the two groups, with Layla feeling caught in the middle.
However, things come to a head when there's a dramatic incident at a beach party, and blame is quickly shifted to one of the groups. Layla is conflicted - wanting to do the right thing and expose the truth behind the incident - but knowing that doing so will likely alienate her from her own group of friends.
Will Layla find a way to expose the truth about what really happened and stay true to herself?
This is a story of family, friendship and searching for identity. Issues of racism, bullying and prejudice are handled with a light yet assured touch.
This book challenges our assumptions about what it's like to be caught between cultures, or to be part of a particular cultural group, or to be the kid who is popular and smart and seems to have it all. We are invited to pause and question our own often unconscious biases.
We are shown through both Layla's and Imogen's eyes that people aren't always what they seem on the outside, and that we shouldn't be so quick to judge or make assumptions about others. We are also given a glimpse of the way two different people can see the same set of events differently, bringing their own past experiences, upbringing and prejudices to the same event.
The supporting characters are well drawn and likeable. I adored the best friend, George, and also loved Jordan, the cute blue-eyed guy working at the beach kiosk over the summer. I love how Jordan helps Layla come to understand that maybe it's not luck that dictates who or why things happen to us - that maybe we actually create our own luck. Jordan also helps opens Layla's eyes so that she can confront some of her own misconceptions about others.
The scenes between Layla and her beloved Tayta are some of my favourites - there is so much heart and humour in these scenes. Tayta emanates such warmth and is a source of strength and solace for Layla.
Half my Luck is a book I could readily relate to and wish I'd read when I was a teenager. Like our protagonist Layla, I'm also a 'halfie' with an Australian born mother and Italian-born father. Looking back to my own teenage years, I remember often feeling embarrassed or ashamed about my Italian background, and tried for so long to deny rather than embrace it. I also felt that strange feeling of disconnect - I didn't fit in with the big group of Italian girls who proudly owned their heritage and spoke Italian, but then I didn't feel like I was truly one of the 'Aussie' girls either. A book like this would have really helped me come to terms with this feeling of displacement and search for identity.
I devoured this book, loving the warm conversational tone, the snappy dialogue, the humour and the summer setting. I have no doubt many teens will also love and relate to this own voices story which engages our interest and encourages us to confront our own misconceptions of others.
Published by Harper Collins Australia