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Rebels by Accident
by Patricia Dunn
Paperback, 290 pages
Published August 16th 2012 by Alikai Press
A Troubled Teen Sent to Cairo Finds Revolution is Everywhere, Including in Ourselves
When my first party ends in jail, I think things can’t possibly get worse. But then my parents send me to my grandmother in Cairo, and I’m sure my life is over. My sittu is Darth Vader’s evil sister, and I’m sure the only sites I’ll get to see in Egypt are the rooms in her apartment.
Turns out she’s not so bad. We ride camels by the pyramids and ice skate at a mall.
As Sittu says, “Sometimes a moment can change your life.” But it can change the life of a country too. When a girl named Asmaa calls the people of Egypt to protest, I find myself in the middle of a revolution, running from tear gas and guns.
Oh yeah, and I meet the cutest guy I’ve ever seen. Fall in love for the first time. And have my first kiss.
"Miriam is desperate to see what it feels like to be part of the inside crowd - if only for an evening. It's that fateful night that lands her in the middle of a series of explosive events that change her life and those of millions worldwide. This is a story that will open hearts and minds." - Carole Geithner, author of If Only (Scholastic)About the Author:
Patricia Dunn’s debut novel, Rebels By Accident (Aug. 16, 2012, Alikai Press) tells the story of a troubled teen sent to Cairo who finds revolution is everywhere, including in ourselves.
Dunn was the managing editor of Muslimwakeup.com, America’s most popular Muslim online magazine from 2003-2008. She has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College where she also teaches.
Her writing has appeared in Global City Review, where she edited the post-9-11 International Issue. Salon.com, Women’s eNews, The Christian Science Monitor, The Village Voice, The Nation, L.A. Weekly and other publications have featured her writing.
Her work is anthologized in Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies, from Kent State University Press (2006); Progressive Muslim Identities: Personal Stories From the U.S. and Canada, Muslim Progressive Values; and most recently in the bestselling anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, Soft Skull Press. She is featured on WISE Muslim Women.
Dunn was raised in the Bronx, became a political activist while living in Los Angeles, has traveled throughout the Middle East, and lived in Jordan and Egypt before settling back down in New York where she lives with her teenage son and her toddler dog.
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Excerpt from Rebels By Accident by Patricia Dunn
@shewrites Rebels By Accident
This isn’t my first visit to Mayflower police station. The last time, Mom brought me with
her to complain about a pothole. It was like the size of a quarter, but Mom insisted it was
dangerous to drive over and she had a child in her car. I was thirteen.
This time, I’m at the Mayflower police station as a criminal. Sixteen (well, almost
sixteen), and I’m behind bars. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. It’s not like we’re
locked up with serial killers or slashers, but we are in a cell. Deanna’s with me, along with
about thirty other underage girls who were at the party and didn’t manage to run away in
time or convince the police to let them go. As we were piled into squad cars, I watched
these girls (and even a few guys) put on all the moves to get out of the arrest—crying,
flirting, screaming, fainting, and even begging—but none of it worked.
I have to say Deanna gave it her best. Not being able to crack a smile really worked to
her advantage. I could see she wasn’t kidding when she told me she was a great litigator
like her mom. When the cop found me hiding in the bathtub with the shower curtain drawn
(could I have picked a more obvious place?) and dragged me downstairs to line up with the
rest of crowd, there was Deanna telling the police we shouldn’t be responsible for the
actions of some stupid guys who brought beer to the party. She almost had one cop
convinced to let us go when good old Karen, the bane of my existence, stepped forward and
threw up on his shoes.
All through grammar school and middle school, Karen and her butt-kisser Beth talked
shit about my family and me. Their favorite insults were that my dad was in Al-Qaida and
my mom was only one of his many wives. Right in the middle of the entire school cafeteria,
Karen shouted, "Hey, towel head, you forget something." When I turned to her she blew her
nose into a napkin and stuck it on my head.
Well, at least she’s not in our cell. They put her, and all the other vomiting kids, in a
separate cell—with buckets.
Still, it stinks in here. I stick my nose through the cell bars, trying to breathe air that
doesn’t smell like puke, beer, or raw fish. Who has an open sushi bar at a high school party?
Then again, what would I know about parties? Yes, tonight was also my first party since
“Come on, Mar. It’s not that bad.” Deanna pushes against my shoulder. I don’t budge. I
don’t say anything.
“Funny how we started tonight wanting to get on the inside, and now we’re hoping to
get out.” Deanna stands closer to me but I can’t even look at her now; I know if do, I’ll start
to cry. Like I’m not already the biggest freak at school.
“Look, I know you’re freakin’ out here, but I’m sure everything will be okay.”
“Are you kidding me?” I turn to her. I lower my voice. “I’m in jail. Do you know how
happy this is going to make my parents?”
“Now they can feel totally justified when they never let me leave the house again.”
Relax! We’ve just been arrested! And are now in a holding cell with girls who have
picked on me—or, worse yet, ignored me—since kindergarten. On top of that, my parents
are going to kill me! Why did I let Deanna talk me into going to this party?
* * *
Okay, the truth: she didn’t have to talk me into anything. I wanted to go. I would’ve done
anything, even lie to my parents, to crash a party, even though I knew I wasn’t wanted, that
I’d probably be kicked out on my ass as soon as I was seen there. But forcibly removed—
by the police? That I didn’t expect. Still, I shouldn’t blame Deanna for helping me get what
I wanted. But I do. It was amazing tonight—music and dancing—yes, I was dancing; three
guys asked me to dance, and I said yes. And nobody made jokes about my dad being a
towelhead or my uncle being Bin Laden.
Ever since those people tried to build their mosque near Ground Zero and there was all
that controversy, my life has been worse than ever. The kids at school treat me like I’m one
of those people. But I’m not. Yes, my family is Muslim, but I don’t think they should be
building a mosque so close to Ground Zero, either. I mean, I believe in freedom of religion
and all, and I know Muslims died at Ground Zero, too, but why would they want to be
where they’re not wanted? I don’t get it. If it’s causing so much trouble, why not just build
their mosque somewhere else? It’s just selfish to cause so many problems.
But tonight I was dancing and laughing. I wasn’t a freak or a weirdo; I was just another
girl having fun.
* * *
“Actually,” I say, turning to Deanna, “thanks.”
“You’re thanking me?” she says.
“Hey, I know I’m in deep shit, but tonight was an adventure—probably the last one I’ll
ever have until I’m thirty.”
“Don’t mention it,” she says. Most people would say she has no expression on her face,
but I can tell she’s smiling.
* * *
When I first met Deanna last summer, she’d just moved here from San Francisco with her
mom. I was the first person she told about her face. I googled it to try to understand better
why her face doesn’t work the same way as most people’s faces, but after reading pages
and pages of medical blah, blah, blah, it really just boils down to the very first thing Deanna
said to me about it: “The muscles in my face don’t work.”
“Does my hair look okay?” I hear some voice from behind me say. “Do I have anything in
I hear another voice say, “No, but do I have anything in my teeth? My mascara smeared?”
“Are they kidding?” Deanna says to me. “We’re in a cell, and they’re worried about their
makeup. They should call our school Airhead High.”
“Shush,” I say.
“Mar, no one is listening to us. This crowd is too busy hearing themselves not think.”
Deanna knows they’re shallow. The only reason she even wanted me to crash the party
with her was so she could show me what I wasn’t missing. But look at the rest of them. Not
one seems the least bit freaked out. Are their parents that laid-back? Damn. Maybe that’s
the secret to their coolness—cool parents. If that’s true, I don’t stand a chance.
“Well, it could be worse,” she says.
“How?” I say.
“Oh shit,” she says, watching an officer unlock the large cell door. There stand Karen
and Beth—Bitch and Bitchier.
“In you go,” the officer says.
Deanna looks at me. “We could be locked in here with them.”
“Look at this.” Karen stares at me. “Who’re you supposed to be? Cleopatra?”
I rub my eyes. Black eyeliner wipes off on my fingers. I’d forgotten Deanna had done my
makeup before we went to the party. You look like an Egyptian queen, Deanna had said. But
not any Egyptian queen. She insists I'm Hatsheput, the queen who ruled Egypt for over
twenty years. Deanna says Hatsheput was the queen who was a king. Deanna loves
anything Egyptian, which is probably why she’s even friends with me. But I don’t want to
look like an Egyptian queen, even if she was a king. I don’t want to look like an Egyptian
anything. I rub my eyes some more.
“Back off,” Deanna says, moving in between Karen and me. Karen is a half-foot taller
than Deanna, but my bets are on Deanna.
“Hey, Beth.” Karen steps back, banging into the bars. “I just realized why these two are
“They come from the same place,” Beth says, like the two of them had rehearsed this
scene. Now everyone is listening. “Cleopatra and the Sphinx.”
“You mean Sphinx Face.” Karen laughs.
“She didn’t just say that,” I hear someone say.
“Yes, she did,” someone else says.
Beth lifts her hand to high-five Karen, but Deanna grabs both their hands and, just like a
professional wrestler, pulls their arms behind both their backs.
“Fight, fight!” people shout around us.
“Get off me,” Beth says, struggling. Karen winces.
“Apologize.” Deanna pulls both their arms back harder.
“You’re hurting me!” Beth stops struggling.
“Apologize,” Deanna says.
“Fine. Fine. I apologize.”
Deanna lets them both go and says, “Get the fuck out of my face.”
Beth scrambles over to the other side of the cell. “You’re crazy,” she says, but it’s
obvious she’s trying to save face with everyone watching. I know Deanna hears this, but she
doesn’t take her eyes off Karen. Karen opens her mouth, but before anything comes out of
it, she closes it and walks over to Beth.
“You okay?” Deanna says.
I nod, but I have never felt lamer. Here she stood up to both of them for the two of us,
and I just stood there watching, doing nothing. And she’s asking if I’m okay? They called her
Sphinx Face, and I didn’t do or say anything.
“You’ll get it next time,” she says, like she’s just treated me to a mocha cappuccino.
I force a smile. I can’t imagine doing anything as courageous as Deanna just did.