Huda and Me by H Hayeck and published by Allen and Unwin follows siblings Huda and Akeal on an action-packed adventure as they escape their nefarious, deceitful babysitter, Aunt Amel, in their home in Melbourne to travel to Beirut to reunite with their parents. This story is perfect for upper primary readers and explores identity, Lebanese culture, religion versus culture, what it means to be Australian, being Muslim in Australia, media bias and stereotypes, racism, siblings and travel.

Huda and Akeal hail from a close-knit Lebanese Australian Muslim family of seven children. When their grandmother becomes ill, their parents suddenly travel to Beirut. Their parents organise Aunt Amel to come and stay to look after them. It immediately becomes apparent that she does not have the children’s best interests at heart. She gives each of the children chores to complete and frames these requests by telling the children that she sees their potential and she is helping them strengthen their skills through these daily tasks. In reality, the children are on call to Aunt Amel’s every request and are pushed to the brink of exhaustion.  She tasks Omar to be her driver and he is to be available at any time of day or night to transport her wherever she demands, Kholoud becomes her personal stylist and beauty expert, the twins Suha and Layla  who enjoy school are banned from attending their classes as they are required to be  Aunt Amels’s personal tea-and-cookie-makers and cook from sun up till into the evening, Akeal is given the job of butler which includes rising before daylight and picking up the chicken poo and endless cleaning all day and Huda is to be the maid assisting Akeal. Baby Raheed is separated from his siblings as Aunt Amel ensures he is with her the whole time.  Huda hatches a plan to escape these conditions. She leaves no stone unturned as she researches and plans every detail to fly from Australia to Beirut with Akeal as unaccompanied minors.

This story is told in dual narrative, giving the readers a seat on the journey to Beirut and an insight into the events that lead up to Huda and Akeal’s adventure. This gives readers an authentic window into an Australian Muslim family, their culture, religion and traditions. It also highlights the close-knit bonds the family enjoys.

Nine-year-old Huda’s bold plan to escape is a daring and quite courageous one and she never doubts that she can pull it off. She proves to be charming, quick thinking and assertive. Despite her confidence, she knows she needs her older brother (by two years) by her side and on the day of departure she tells him of the plan. He does not share Huda’s confidence that this will work, but Huda is going with or without him. Akeal is very close to Huda and has promised his parents he will look after her so, reluctantly, he decides to come along for the ride and what a ride it is, full of adventure and misadventure. Akeal is often anxious on the flight, on high alert that they will be caught and is filled with dread as he anticipates dire consequences, at times he is prone to catastrophising. But, when his sister is the target of racism on the flight, Akeal stands up to the perpetrator, showing great courage and his words cause the offender to reflect on his actions and challenge his behaviour.

The story spans several locations, Melbourne, the airport in Dubai and Beirut and paints a rich and vivid picture of these places.

Humour is used throughout the book and there are several laugh out loud moments. Readers will find themselves cheering Huda and Akeal on, willing them to be successful to expose Aunty Amel’s cruel ways and ultimately help their family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *