First Lines: I strain to listen for boots on the pavement. Stomping. Marching. But there’s nothing.
I saw this at the library a few weeks ago and I had to read it. As someone who loves social commentaries and seeing parallels between fiction and the world, I was immediately drawn to this.
Layla Amin, a 17-year-old Muslim American from California, can’t believe it when her own country sends her to an internment camp specifically for Muslim Americans–the current “threat” to American security. With the help of new friends on the inside and her boyfriend on the outside, Layla begins fighting for her freedom and her rights. But in order to start a revolution, you have to be ready to make sacrifices.
This was literally the hardest book I’ve read in a long time.
When I first picked it up, I think I made it through the first chapter before I had to put it down from the tension and fear. So later I picked it up and tried to make it through another chapter only to put it back down after a few pages. It was so intense so quickly that I needed some time to adjust to it, which is unfortunately not a luxury our characters got. My anxiety spiked just about every time I read more than 2 pages at a time. That was not a fun sensation.
The premise of the book drew me in. Ahmed refers to this as being set “15 minutes” in the future, but with the references it makes, I’d peg it a little more accurately as like 2021, maybe 2022 (they reference census results). But still. Stuff they experience isn’t out of the realm of possibility. We already see the signs of some of these things on the news. I teach the Holocaust in my classroom and there are extremely scary parallels to that as well–and in the news.
It was so horrifying right from the beginning not because of what actually happened but because it 100% could happen. It’s like if the breeze shifts just a little in one direction, this could absolutely be what happens in the next few years. And that’s what destroyed me. I mean, I was obviously moved by Layla’s plight and everything they experienced in the camps, but this could all happen again so easily in my lifetime–before I’m even 30. We like to think we’re so much better than previous generations, but we’re not.
Moving past the politics of it all, I thought the story itself was good. When I could actually sit down and read it, anyway. It’s suspenseful and moving and emotional. It gives you hope, which I think is really a defining characteristic of YA right now (and one I fully embrace). There are shocks and surprises all the way through it because it’s hard to predict what crazy, desperate people will do. And in this case, I’m talking about those in power.
And Layla’s character is so great. She’s brave and determined without being unrealistic. She faces a lot of setbacks and she feels fear the whole time, but she feels like what she’s doing is right and she’s going to keep doing it to make sure things change. It was admirable.
I saw a review that mentioned this book is really heavy-handed and basically forces its philosophy down your throat. And in a way, it does. The points are all laid out as they author wants you to understand it: this is bad, to start revolutions you have to stand up to the bad, you have to be willing to make sacrifices for things to change. I mean, most of these are spelled out almost word for word throughout the book. And yeah, the characters are almost stereotypes of each role, but I didn’t necessarily think that was a bad thing. It’s a really heavy subject and one, as I’ve mentioned, I had a hard time reading all at once. It was easier to read it when that, at least, was simple since the emotions were such a sledgehammer.
I was glad I read this and that it had such a good message to it. But I think it’s safe to say it’s a book I’m only going to read once due to its intensity. I can’t do that twice.