'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 4 February 2021

Review: Listen, Layla

This is our second meeting with exuberant and passionate Layla, teenaged Sudanese-Australian girl living in Brisbane. 

Layla has much in common with any other teen but perhaps more accentuated in some respects as she straddles the expectations of two very different cultures.

Her first year as a scholarship student at her new school, and her passion for inventing has culminated in her secured position with the Grand Designs Tourismo team. 

The team has won entry in the international competition to take place in Germany and not only that, but Layla has been selected to be Australia’s representative on the associated Special International Invention Tour – life doesn’t get any better for this girl who loves her science and engineering!

But as we know, life doesn’t always go according to plan. 

The start of the summer holidays, so full of exciting promise, suddenly crashes into a family crisis. Layla’s beloved grandmother, still in Sudan, becomes gravely ill and the whole family is suddenly packing and heading back to their homeland.  It is the first time the family has returned for five years and they find the differences that have arisen during that time to be confronting.  The Sudanese people are in a state of high agitation with political protests erupting into volatile and dangerous altercations.

This whole distressing situation does not help Layla who is torn between her life in Brisbane and her deep connection to her birth country and these emotions are exacerbated by her father’s demands that she quit the team to focus on family. Layla rebels under what she sees as this unfair and unreasonable stance and her objections are fanned by her cousin’s clearly non-Muslim take on so many of the restrictions imposed on young women.

All in all, it makes for thoroughly engaging reading as we follow Layla’s very typical teen resentment and chafing against imposed (and, to her mind, unjust) rules and her gradual realisation of the importance of family, respect, and prima-cultural background.

The seriousness of both Layla’s emotional roller-coaster and the intensity of the 2018/2019 Sudanese uprising is leavened by moments of humour and warmth and any reader will connect with Layla and her troubles.

Young people who are also involved in this diaspora situation will particularly find this a resonating #ownvoices read and those of us with student populations largely drawn from other countries will be able to promote this enthusiastically.

This is another fine book from an author known for her work not only in writing, but also broadcasting and award-winning social advocacy and I give it my fullest recommendation for your young adult readers.

Title: Listen, Layla
Author: Yassmin Abdel—Magied
Publisher: Penguin Australia, $16.99
Publication date: February 2021
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760896065
For ages: 12+
Type: Young Adult Fiction