When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah – A much-needed, humanizing discussion about the refugee crisis


When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats.
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

My review:

It’s been such a long time since I have read a book that possessed such electrifying energy. I don’t find it difficult to put a book down, but with When Michael Met Mina, I genuinely struggled. Needless to say, I was addicted.

When Michael Met Mina is a powerful combination of political discourse and lived experiences, contributing to the conversations and debates surrounding the ongoing global refugee crisis. Whilst such conversations can be cold, disconnected, and forgetful of the suffering that refugees face, When Michael Met Mina is full of compassion and humanity. The story remembers, acknowledges, and humanizes the lives and real experiences of refugees. In this way, When Michael Met Mina has its heart and roots in the right place.

I’m grateful that I made it to a country that offers peace, but what upsets me is that it offers peace to some and not others. That’s the way the world works, isn’t it? A lottery of winners and losers.

The topics and themes within When Michael Met Mina are predominantly driven by its fantastic cast of complex characters. Michael’s character development was particularly enjoyable, especially his internal conflict with political ideas and perspectives as he begins to consider another side to the coin. I’ve met people like Michael: people who have unquestioningly accepted their parents’ beliefs and ideologies and parrot them to others, thinking that the opinions are their own. Michael is an example of an individual whose privilege has made him ignorant, but, with awareness and education, changes. Abdel-Fattah’s portrayal of him, as an individual who is genuinely trying to grapple between two colliding worlds, was realistic and compassionate and I couldn’t help but to empathize with him. It was refreshing to see a multifaceted portrayal of someone who was ignorant not because of malice, but due to lack of awareness.

Mina, on the other hand, was fantastic; brave, kind, and strong in so many ways. We see the ins and outs of her life and how she deals with adversary. Through Mina, we are immersed in her past and present; we get insight into what it’s like to be a refugee, the pain of escaping war and losing family, and the struggle of living in Australia, their new home but also a place where she and her family feel unwelcomed. However, what makes When Michael Met Mina such a fantastic book is that Abdel-Fattah doesn’t portray Mina and her family as tragic people. Indeed, they have experienced trauma, war, heartbreak, and pain. However, When Michael Met Mina powerfully challenges the one-dimensional, stereotypical portrayals of refugees often found in the media, and shows them for who they are: people who feel hope, feel happiness, feel sadness, and feel alienated; people who are complex human beings.

“I’m not going to do the refugee myth-busting thing with you. If you’re still running those slogans, you’re the one with work to do, not me.”

The perspectives in this book were confronting – but in ways that I did not anticipate. It should go without saying that the book is heavily political and includes ideological debates between characters. Some parts were difficult to read – namely, the parts where some characters experienced Islamophobia and racism – but these stances are challenged and addressed. But there wasn’t any sugarcoating or excessive antagonism. With this book, Abdel-Fattah presents two sides vulnerably and honestly, allowing berth for meaningful discussion that considers the perspectives of both sides without justifying ignorance. This, perhaps, was my favourite part of the book.

However, the book further challenges you by presenting two individuals, founders of Aussie Values, who are ‘morally grey’ characters. They are characters who are causing hurt, speaking out of ignorance and fear, and spinning the refugee debate into not one of compassion but economics, but they weren’t portrayed as inherently ‘evil’, antagonistic, or malevolent individuals. Indeed, a point the book raises is that sometimes people who do bad things can also be kind too; people are complicated and are held together by contradictory beliefs, and it’s these people – who we cannot diminish into one singular trait – that are the most difficult to approach and understand. It’s a fine line, but Abdel-Fattah explores and unravels this excellently.

To address the ‘insta-love’: I disagree that there was insta-love in this book. Instead, there was certainly an attraction between Michael and Mina when they first met, but what transpires between them grows over an extended period of time. The romance in this book, a modern twist on the ‘forbidden love’ trope, is done well and also developed.

Given its subject matter, Abdel-Fattah did a splendid job at addressing the questions prevalent in such discussions whilst also offering answers through the story’s narrative and discourse. When Michael Met Mina is a rare book; one that everyone – teenagers and adults – should read. And despite all the talks of politics, When Michael Met Mina is ultimately a story that celebrates passion, love, and hope. The message at the end is so raw and beautiful. Needless to say, I enjoyed everything about this book immensely and is probably one of my favourite reads in 2017 so far.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Goodreads | AmazonBook DepositoryMy review on Goodreads

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A white Australian and Afghanistan refugee are on opposite ends of the refugee debate and how their worlds collide.

For readers: Those who love politically engaging and balanced narratives, girl power, and nuanced discourse.

Genre: Young adult, contemporary, romance

Recommended? Yes yes yes!

Possible trigger warnings: Islamophobia

Let’s discuss!

I really hope you’ll be able to read this book. I have so many feelings about it but had to restrain myself when writing this review because I didn’t want to spoil anything!

  • Have you read When Michael Met Mina? If so, what did you think?
  • Is your country taking in refugees or are thinking of increasing/decreasing the intake per capita?
  • What is your favourite ‘political’ book? Do you have any recommendations?

4 thoughts on “When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah – A much-needed, humanizing discussion about the refugee crisis

  1. Amazing review, as always CW! I love how your reviews are not just review, but also gives information like Hanlon’s razor in this one. I haven’t read this book, but my country does accept refugees from the Rohingnya crisis. I don’t know how much we accepted, but all I know is we accept because we can’t let them stay in the ocean or killed, but we don’t have enough to support them. My guess is we accept a lot, but not as much as it was in the beginning of the crisis. I can’t wait to read this book, it sounds amazing and complex with well-developed characters instead of stereotypes. I hope it won’t dissapoint!

    • Hello Tasya!

      Oh, thank you so much for the lovely and thought-provoking comment. Yes, agreed. In an ideal world, I like Hanlon’s Razor and generally like to apply it — with the necessary grain of salt.

      Ah, thank you for sharing your insights! Immigration and refugees in New Zealand is very tricky because housing is SUCH a heated debate at the moment.

      I think you will really love this book. It is complex, so so wonderfully written, and thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy it if you read it!

  2. Oh my God, how have I not heard about this book! This sounds amazing and I’ll be adding it to my TBR right away. Thank you for this really insightful review! 🙂

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