Book: “Internment” by Samira Ahmed
Publishing Info: Little, Brown. March 2019
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Rebellions are built on hope.
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!
One of the vivid horrible memories I have in the wake of the Trump election (and there are many, believe me) is that one of Trump’s PAC supporters, Carl Higbie, said that Trump’s idea to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries had a ‘precedent’ because of Japanese American citizen registries during WWII. Given that those registries led to the unconstitutional and horrific internment of American Citizens, this statement was quite frightening (and given the detention of families at the border and how horrific that practice is, in some ways internment is already present on our soil). Fast forward to a couple years later, when a controversy surrounded the upcoming release of a novel called “American Heart”. The author, Laura Moriarty, had wanted to write a ‘what if’ book that was about Muslim Internment camps in America during a Trump-esque executive administration. But it was from the perspective of a white teenage girl who basically has to be taught why it’s wrong to imprison people for their beliefs and culture, and to be shown the humanity and worth of their lives. It’s a story structure that is pretty problematic in that it dehumanizes a marginalized group so that a non-marginalized group an learn a lesson. And that is where “Internment” by Samira Ahmed comes in. The premise is similar: it is a what if scenario in which Muslim Americans have been put on lists and had laws passed to limit their rights in the wake of a far right administration taking power. But this one is from the perspective of a teenage Muslim American girl named Layla, whose life is uprooted when she and her family are taken to an internment camp.
The power and resonance within “Internment” is the timeliness of it all. From the Muslim Travel Ban in this country to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the future that Ahmed is painting doesn’t necessarily feel farfetched. While Ahmed doesn’t use specific names, it is very clear that this takes place a couple years after the 2016 election, and she paints a picture of how these policies could easily turn into the policies that we seen within this story. The escalation that is set up, both before Mobius Camp itself comes into play and during the time spent there, is chilling and real, and Ahmed does a good job of drawing comparisons to different internment policies of the past. Not only is the escalation seem based in a probable truth, the power structure of the camp itself also feels very true to life. The camp director abuses his power and uses power plays to harass, intimidate, and commit violence against the inmates. There are Muslim families who have been appointed as leaders of blocks, whose compliance wtih the policy gives them benefits at the expense of other prisoners. And the actions and conditions of the camp has been suppressed from the outside world, so the public doesn’t know just what is going on inside the walls. This all felt VERY real and familiar.
Layla herself is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I really liked her as our main character. She feels like a very typical teenage girl in a lot of ways; she is trying to assert her independence from her parents, she is very committed to her Jewish boyfriend David, and is interested in geek culture. Her rebelliousness feels very true to her character, and I completely believe her as a young person who wants to fight back against her oppression while her parents are more investing in using silence and compliance in hopes of keeping her safe. My frustrations of her more had to do with her motivations sometimes feeling like they shifted depending on what they needed to be for the plot at the moment. She would rail against her parents for their complacency one moment, then seem to understand their point of view another moment, only to rail against them again. Her tentative trust of one of the guards, Jake, felt like it grew too quickly for her character as we’d seen her up until that point. To me her motivations were muddled. It very well could be that this is trying to show how a traumatic period can affect a person’s psyche and the way they think, so I can’t completely tear Layla down for seeming inconsistent within her characterization.
And as we sometimes tend to see in YA fiction that hopes to make pertinent points within a broader social and political context, sometimes the messages felt a little too spoon fed to the audience. Be it a speech awkwardly plunked down in a conversational setting, or an offhand remark that doesn’t quite fit the greater conversation at hand but has a point to make, we occasionally see these moments within the narrative. I realize that this book is for a young adult audience, and that sometimes people tend to think that teens need to have things spelled out for them. But I wish that authors would trust their audiences more, in that they are able to read between the lines and parse out the lessons in more ‘show rather than tell’ fashions. Trust teens to get nuance!
All in all, I thought “Internment” was an effective and charged read. It paints a grim picture of where our current political climate could possibly lead, and what could happen if we don’t speak out and rise up against it.
Rating 7: With relevant and pertinent themes but a sometimes clunky execution, “Internment” is a frightening read that asks ‘what if’ when it comes to our current political climate.
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