Huda And Me
by H Hayek
Allen & Unwin

When you’re in lockdown in an eastern state of Australia (or anywhere else in the overly rich and lazy First World for that matter), it’s hard to find things that will make your First World problems go away.

Let’s be honest. Watching or reading the news with wall-to-wall COVID coverage really sucks. Especially if you are like me and come from an “ethnic” family with relatives in overseas locations in a virus warzone.

Social media can provide some relief. Streaming television services become a bit tedious soon after. In fact, screens in general make you sick after a while.

It was during one of my awful moments of lockdown stress that I discovered printed words on a page. Words that were so easy to read, that told a cheeky story that I wish I had access to when I was in Year 7 or 8.

Young adult fiction isn’t just for young adults. Even not-so-young adults like me can find so much joy and emotional release just by feasting on a story that literally floats off the page.

Huda And Me is the story of a large family. In the novel they are Lebanese Muslims, but they could be any large family. In the story they are in Melbourne. But the author’s family, on whom this story is based, were in Perth.

Perth has an established, middle class and very multicultural Muslim community. Unlike Sydney or Melbourne, no single ethnic group dominates. Into this melting pot grew H Hayek’s large Lebanese family of two parents and seven children.

And out of that family grew Hayek’s fictitious tale of a young boy and his slightly younger and more adventurous sister who sneak away and fly to Lebanon. Unaccompanied. And no, this isn’t some crazy tale of confused kids joining some tinpot caliphate.

The story begins with a loving family celebrating the birthday of their elderly Polish neighbour, Mr Kostiki. Mum is making a birthday cake for him, while the kids are joining in a traditional Polish dance.

This isn’t the Lebanese Muslim scene you would have read about in the mainstream media. Muslims? Celebrating the birthday of a white European man? A bearded Muslim father laughing, his wife in hijab bringing out the cake with candles? You can almost hear the clapping and the music.

After the party, Dad announces they’re heading to Lebanon to care for the maternal grandmother. They being the parents. The kids are being looked after by an eccentric (to say the least) Aunt Amel.

One of the boys, Akeal, narrates the story. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are taken to such far-flung places as Dubai and Bar Elias in Beqaa, Lebanon. Readers see these places through the eyes of nervous and highly perceptive kids.

This is a story that will warm your heart and take away the Covid blues. I give it 10 stars out of 5.