Review by Iola Goulton
Natalie is a Syrian Orthodox Christian, the child of immigrants to Australia, currently in her final year of high school. Her older sister wants nothing more than to marry a Baba-approved man from the Syrian expat community, but Natalie is falling for a guy from school. An Australian. And she wants to become a journalist and travel the world, not get married and start her own family.
She has many of the same struggles as normal seventeen-year-old girls, but she also has the struggle of straddling two worlds—the conservative patriarchal culture of her Syrian family and community which is full of unspoken rules, and the more liberal Australian culture of her school. And things are difficult at home. Her older sister is moody, but that’s nothing new. Her mother is acting out of character. Baba carries on making bad jokes.
Natalie might hide her Syrian culture from most of her schoolmates, but she can’t hide it from the reader.
Instead, we see that the girls at her church are just as focused on clothes and boys as the girls at school. What was good to see was that none of the characters experienced any racism—although that could be more because racism wasn’t the focus of the book than because it doesn’t exist in modern Australia.
One thing that bugged me was that while the family were strict Syrian Orthodox Christians, the focus seemed to be on the cultural aspect rather than the spiritual. Natalie’s sister was the only character who seemed to pray—I never really understood whether Natalie believed in what the church taught or not. Sure, she followed the rules, but that’s a matter of outward behaviour, not inner faith. I guess I’d have liked to have understood that a little better.
Unspoken Rules was a fascinating insight into other cultures—the Syrian Orthodox culture, the tightknit Syrian community (which can’t really be separated from the Orthodox), and modern Australian teen culture. And it’s a warts-and-all insight, told from Natalie’s point of view. The writing has a slightly foreign flavour, especially when Mama and Baba are talking. But that makes sense, because their first language is Arabic.
A fascinating and engrossing Young Adult novel that shows growing up is hard no matter what your culture.
Thanks to Rhiza Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
About Iola Goulton
I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at www.christianediting.co.nzto download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction.
I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more at www.iolagoulton.com.
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