Is silence truly golden? In this debut YA novel, Ayaan Mohamud provokes the reader to consider the power of voice and choice. You Think You Know Me is the story of Hanan, a teenage girl who attends the prestigious Grafton Grammar School. Hanan’s dream is to attend medical school, to follow in the footsteps of her late father. Despite this drive and desire, staff and students at Grafton Grammar continually ‘other’ Hanan, seeing her as ‘different’ because of her hijab, Muslim religion and Somali culture. Throughout this constant bullying and bigotry, however, the words of Hooyo (Hanan’s mother) ring in her ears – ‘Don’t make more trouble opening your mouth, Hanan. Af daboolan dahab wayee (a closed mouth is gold).’ But when tragedy strikes the local community and Hanan’s family, she has a choice to make – will she stay silent or choose to speak out?
The daily racism, bigotry and Islamophobia Hanan faces in this story is heart-wrenching. The quiet and steadfast tolerance of Hanan is countered by other characters’ behaviours and reactions in the story – hurt manifesting into fight, especially in the case of Hanan’s twin brother, Hussein. This careful balancing of characters’ perspectives manages to heighten Hanan’s growing silence as her intolerance increases throughout the story. I appreciated the sensitive way in which Mohamud presented the dilemmas and daily struggles faced by different characters – Abooto the wise grandmother and Hanan’s younger sisters. Both offer new perspectives of events as they unfold, crossing generational boundaries. Ayaan Mohamud has presented the Muslim community and Somali culture as spaces of pride.This book is, indeed, a wonderful addition to the UKLA longlist 2024 for the 11-14 category.
I found the inclusion of the theme of silence as a form of compliance a thoughtful layering of perspective. It challenges the reader to consider whether staying silent when witnessing these extreme behaviours and hatred targeted at others is acceptable. What would you do if you were dealing with daily, racial aggressions and your friends didn’t stand up for you? Does silence equate to acceptance? Another interesting theme to explore is that of the expectation of integration in the school context. What does integration truly mean? How does this celebrate and recognise diversity and the range of realities experienced by others? A dynamic, current novel reflecting the importance of speaking out, You Think You Know Me is one not to miss.
UKLA Longlist 11-14+ category 2024
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