In her first fiction book for young readers, writer, broadcaster and award-winning social advocate, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, gives us the inspiring and hopeful story of Layla. A Sudanese teenager in Australia, Layla is curious, adventurous and determined to learn anything and everything she can about the world. Her family moved to Australia from Sudan when her mother, a doctor, was offered a position at a Brisbane hospital, and things have been very different ever since.
Initially, Layla attends the Islamic School of Brisbane (ISB) where there are students from all over the world, including India, Fiji, Nigeria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Malaysia and South Africa. Most of the students are recent migrants so their families also start to spend time together and become friends, creating a wonderfully diverse and welcoming community. Layla loves the school and her friends there, especially best friend Dina, but starts to want something more.
A community school, ISM doesn’t have a lot of funding for extra equipment and opportunities and when she meets private school student, Adam, in the park, she begins to realise that she may need to branch out. Adam attends Mary Maxmillion Grammar (MMG) a private and very exclusive school that has everything you could imagine, including a workshop with all kinds of equipment that Layla could use to bring her beloved inventions to life. Layla loves to make jewellery at home – the precision of threading beads and creating patterns appeals, but she would love the opportunity to make so much more.
After talking to her parents, it isn’t long before Layla is sitting the scholarship exam for MMG and then as the book opens, getting ready for her first day there.
Although she’s extremely excited about her first day at the new school, Layla wants to slip in under the radar. Things don’t go quite as planned, however – being the first student to wear a hijab makes her stand out, and in her first class she manages to get on the wrong side of the teacher and is unceremoniously thrown out. Last but not least,she has a nasty confrontation with Peter (son of the chairman of the board) who quickly becomes her arch enemy. Despite all that, there are a few high points and Layla makes some great new friends.
After a rocky start Layla decides to enter the Grand Designs Tourismo, a design competition that not only gives her a chance to take full advantage of the new school’s workshop but take on Peter and his friends who think they have the competition wrapped up.
Will Layla manage to come up with a winning entry and redeem herself at the prestigious MMG?
You Must Be Layla is a heart-warming story that will give young readers insight into the lives of migrants to Australia and the struggles with racism and identity that they grapple with. It also explores the pressure that students can be under from their parents to perform at school and how this can play out in very detrimental ways. Layla is a wonderfully warm and vibrant character who will stay with you long after you have finished reading her story. A perfect book to get young readers thinking more about issues in the playground and to the bigger world beyond it.
Now, given the recent tragedy in New Zealand, there is no better time for children to read books like this one.
Yassmin worked on oil and gas rigs around Australia for almost half a decade before becoming a full-time writer and broadcaster. She published her debut memoir, Yassmin’s Story, at age 24, then became the presenter of Australia Wide, a national weekly current-affairs show on the ABC and Motor Mouth, a podcast on becoming an F1 driver. After hosting the documentary, The Truth About Racism, she created Hijabistas for the ABC, a series looking at the modest fashion scene in Australia. Her writing has appeared in publications like Teen Vogue, London’s Evening Standard, the Guardian and numerous anthologies.
With over a decade’s experience in non-profit governance, Yassmin founded her first organisation, Youth Without Borders, at the age of 16. She has since served on numerous board and councils, including the Council of Australian-Arab Relations and ChildFund, and also serves as the Gender Ambassador for the Inter-American Development Bank.
Yassmin has been awarded numerous awards nationally and internationally for her advocacy, including the 2018 Young Voltaire Award for Free Speech and Queensland Young Australian of the Year in 2015. In 2017, Yassmin created Mumtaza, dedicated to the empowerment of women of colour, and most recently founded Kuwa, a platform tackling cultural change around sexual harassment in workplaces.
Yassmin has delivered keynotes in over 20 countries on unconscious bias and leadership. Her TED talk, What Does My Headscarf Mean to You?, has been viewed over two million times and was chosen as one of TED’s top ten ideas of 2015. Yassmin is currently based in London.