YA Review: Internment

Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Layla is a typical American teenager, sneaking out of the house to meet her boyfriend, and finding time to complete her homework. But Layla is a Muslim, and in her America, the President didn’t stop at banning people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA. Her father has lost his job as a university professor, her mother’s chiropractic clinic is running out of patients, and since ticking the ‘Muslim’ box on the national census, the family is on a government registry. Layla’s life is turned upside down when she and her parents are given ten minutes to pack and leave their home, and taken to an internment camp with other Muslim Americans.

While her parents decide to follow the rules and keep the family safe, Layla is outraged at her imprisonment in the camp. She and her friends are determined to fight back, and use social media and reporters to highlight their internment. Her frustration at her parents’ acceptance of the camp, and their fears that her activism will have consequences, pit them against one another when they need each other most.

But Layla’s actions and protests are dangerous, and the consequences are severe. She needs support from her friends inside the camp, and her boyfriend outside the camp, to make sure her internment makes it onto the national news. But Layla is nearly eighteen, and with adult protesters disappearing from the camp, she needs to attract the attention of the media before someone makes her disappear.

Internment tells an incredibly relevant and powerful story. The author describes the events as happening ‘fifteen minutes’ in the future, and points out that camps like these are already operating in the US for immigrants and immigrant children detained at the Mexican border. With Trump’s Muslim travel ban still in place, this level of discrimination does not feel too far-fetched, and that makes this book a terrifying glimpse into a very possible future.

Layla starts out as a risk-taking teenager, meeting her Jewish boyfriend after the curfew imposed to control protests against the government. When she finds herself being taken from her home, her journey into activism and resistance begins. Layla is a relatable protagonist, and her anger and frustration is entirely appropriate to the extreme events of the first few chapters. Her relationship with her parents is wonderful – her mother’s anger at her rash decisions is always tempered by her father’s calm words, and it is evident that their anger is driven by fear that something will happen to their daughter. Their decision to follow rules and not make trouble is entirely based on keeping Layla safe.

Layla makes friends in the camp, and between them they find ways to peacefully protest their internment. Their actions are inspiring – they use resistance instead of violence, and they find clever ways to avoid the constant surveillance. Their use of social media is inspired (and very, very brave), and their determination to stand together while the Camp Director tries to divide them along ethnic lines is wonderful.

This is an uncomfortable and uplifting story. Layla and her friends are inspiring protagonists, but life in the camp isn’t fair, and they are not protected from the consequences of their actions. The author references the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, and models the camp on the Japanese-American experience, as well as on the model concentration camp established by the Nazis at Theresienstadt. Nothing in the book feels impossible, and while Muslim Americans are not subject to internment today, the author makes us feel as if it could happen, and soon.

Internment is a political story with a strong message and an inspiring protagonist. It is not a comfortable read, but it is relevant and frightening. It is a warning, and a call to arms to resist discrimination, to notice what is happening around you, and to stand together with neighbours of all colours and faiths. Highly recommended.

Have you read Internment? What did you think of the story? Were you inspired by Layla and her friends? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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