Book Review: “Rebels by Accident”by Prabh Kehal on Aug, 20 2012
Having become a senior in college (read “I don’t know where the past three years went”), the last thing I’d expect to find myself reading is young adult novel. A book about the teenage life and coming to terms with one’s cultural, religious and national identity didn’t necessary align with the normal topics in all my readers. I mean, if Berkeley hadn’t prepared me for being around diversity and thriving in it, I’m not sure what else could. But while reading Rebels by Accident by Patricia Dunn, I realized that there isn’t a perfect age for reading about identity, we’re dealing with it everyday regardless of our age.
Rebels by Accident follows the story of Mariam and her best friend when they both get shipped off to Egypt to live with Mariam’s grandmother, or Sittu. Now, as an Indian-American, I can understand the stereotypical image of “strict parents” and having “no freedom” as a teenager, but let’s just say that my parents never thought of sending me off to India when I did something bad. But in Mariam’s case, let’s just say that sometimes what seems like a punishment is actually much more of a blessing.
The plot follows the girls and their adventures in Egypt right around the time when Tahrir Square received national coverage (we all remember that momentous time right?). Dunn marries the storyline of an Egyptian-American teenage girl that wants nothing more than to be American with the political events in Egypt that shook the world in 2011. The two wouldn’t naturally be aligned in normal conversations, but Dunn successfully mirrors Mariam’s personal struggle with the Egypt’s personal struggle. I found myself rooting for Mariam while learning so much more about Egypt’s revolution – aspects that were not covered in the mass media. The plot develops over the course of five days: right before the protests begin and right after they begin. We gain a perspective on the revolution that brings together people of all ages. The elderly are right there with the young kids protesting the political regime and taking part in their government.
Rebels has everything a good story needs: the confused main character, the fearless friend, the strict parents, the cool Sittu (grandma), and the cute guys. The reader is taken on a ride that explores the pyramids, the Egyptian malls, and the modern Egypt that was on the verge of the biggest change in its history. Dunn draws on personal experiences to bring attention to an issue that confronts every American: living in a world where diversity has its benefits and drawbacks. She has spent a lot of her adult life in Egypt and brings that personal knowledge to the forefront in Rebels. We see a family grow apart and then grow close (and possibly grow apart? – I’ll leave you a little clueless about how things end up), while friendships are strained. Dunn truly captures what it is to be a teenager; she captures what it is to be a teenager in our modern world. The “modern” teenager doesn’t identify solely with one ethnicity or from one cultural background and it’s comforting to know that there is a shift occurring in young adult novels to accomodate this change.
After meeting with Dunn at a book reading and signing, it became apparent that she was very aware that kids and us to-be seniors (again, read “where did the last three years go”) are constantly dealing with identity. Now that our identities are tied to political consequences and repercussions the moment you step out of the safety of your house, Dunn does a marvelous job with providing a literary outlet for coping with the changing world. In Rebels, she embodies this world at its best:
What made up this world was neighborhoods and blocks of people, and each person was like me, and not like me, and the differences and commonalities were wonderous.
But Dunn’s most influential impact with Rebels is no doubt in her attempt to provide support to teens as they deal with their entire world changing:
I hope this book helps Muslim teens, like my son, or any teens that have ever been bullied or ostracized because of others’ ignorance, understand that they are okay and it’s the bullies who need to change.
You might consider it corny, but Rebels focuses on a message that needs to be said. So check it out, you’ll enjoy the break right before we become obsessed with our class readers once again.
Find out more about Patricia Dunn on her webpage. | Attend her West Coast Launch on Thursday, August 23 in San Francisco – free food and no cost for attendance! | Purchase Rebels by Accident on Amazon on Kindle or in print.