Internment by Samira Ahmed

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Internment by Samira Ahmed

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Dark, tense, and an all-too-possible disturbing vision of the future in America.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2019
Publisher: Atom
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780349003344

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Set in a future that feels terrifyingly close to our own, Layla is a 17 year old American Muslim who is taken one day, along with her parents, to an internment camp for muslims. Islamophobia has reached its peak in the States, and after a period of curfews, book-burning and ostracisation of Muslims in the community the President creates new laws to round up all the Muslims and keep them locked up. Layla, ripped from her life, struggles to deal with her new life, and hates the way she watches her parents comply with the camp's rules and regulations, seemingly questioning nothing of what is happening. Is this her destiny now, to spend years of her life locked away, summoned for morning roll call and watched continuously?

This is a very tense read. Although it's fictional, it feels only too close to the reality that the US could step towards at any given moment, given the current political climate there. I really wanted to know what was going to happen, but I found it so emotionally unsettling that I had to take breaks in my reading now and then, so that I didn't feel completely overwhelmed. Yet it's giving voice to important issues; to past events in our not-so-distant history of the Japanese internment in America in the second world war, and the holocaust, and the ever-present undercurrents of racism that still abound today all over the world.

I think the aspects I liked most about the book tended to be the interactions between Layla and her friend, Ayesha, as well as others in the camp. I often wanted to know more about the others though, and what was happening to them within the camp, because for me, Layla was a difficult character. She was difficult to like, and difficult to support. I disliked that much of the emphasis around her urgent need to get out and get home lay around her desire to get back to her boyfriend. Maybe this is my forty-something head talking, and perhaps that's the teen aspect that escaped me, but it made some of her behavioural choices difficult for me to comprehend and condone. She came across, at times, as selfish and thoughtless. I questioned her motives. Was she really being brave, or was she just being stupid and impulsive? I would have really liked to have read some of the writing she smuggled out of the camp, as perhaps that would have endeared her to me, so she would have been a more intelligent and sensitive young woman. Perhaps I'm being unfair to a young seventeen year old girl who has faced racial abuse, segregation and finally incarceration! I obviously understood her anger. But I didn't understand quite so well her cavalier attitude to the safety of her parents, and others within the camp. So, Layla's character grated on me a little.

The other issue I had was with some of the plot. I found it hard to believe that her boyfriend was smuggled quite so easily into the camp, on more than one occasion! And as much as I liked Jake, I felt sure there must be more to his back story than we were hearing. Why did he form that bond with Layla? What was it about him, or about her, that made him risk everything to help her? The director of the camp is also something of a Trump-esque cartoon villain. I found him scary, initially, but towards the end of the book the line tipped just a little too far from being utterly terrifying, as much of the book was, to being just not quite believable. There were things that could have been more fully rounded-out, with more back story on why this had happened, and more motivation for the key characters. Yet even with all this, it is still an incredibly powerful novel, and it held my attention throughout and has stayed with me since finishing. I can only hope that America doesn't fall any further towards this future, and that more people would speak out before things would ever escalate to this point.

Further reading suggestion: You might also want to take a look at I am Thunder by Muhammad Khan and Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah

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Buy Internment by Samira Ahmed at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Internment by Samira Ahmed at


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