Book Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed // powerful themes, but disappointing execution

Title: Internment

Author: Samira Ahmed

Published: March 19, 2019

Pages: 386

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary

Amazon / Barnes & Nobles / Book Depository / Goodreads

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I have very mixed feelings about this book.

There’s no denying that the media and American politicians have capitalized on identity politics and racism falsely paraded as patriotism in order to socially isolate citizens into separate sides that need choosing. People are quick to write others off as another “liberal”, “conservative”, “immigrant”, “Trump supporter”, or whatever necessary label they can sneer at while they keep close company with a group that feeds their intransigence and confirmation bias.

More than ever, fostering honest and civil discussions between the divvied up parties should be a priority of any concerned American, no matter how frustrating or futile they seem. A glance back at just the last 100 years of history reveals that putting up fences between our ideas of “us” and “them” is ignorant, childish, and extremely dangerous.

Ahmed wrote Internment as a warning of horrific history potentially repeating itself, this time with Muslims as the scapegoats.

I won this book in a giveaway! Read about it here.

Ahmed painted a story set in an alarmingly conceivable future where the American government has declared the whole Muslim population as a national threat. Under the guise of “war times”, Muslim Americans were required to register themselves in a new registry, laid off from work, kicked out of school, and deported from the country. For those who refused to leave the place they called home, “Exclusion Authority” and “Exclusion Guards” were stationed like the local neighborhood watch to supposedly keep people “safe from Muslims”. Ahmed made a point of highlighting the similarities between today’s current political climate and fearmongering to past events, the most relevant one being the placement of Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War 2.

Our seventeen year old protagonist Layla wasn’t naive enough to think that the increased sanctions and discrimination against Muslims would simply pass. However, she wasn’t prepared to be ripped out of her home at night along with her parents and forced into a Muslim internment camp nicknamed “Mobius”.

In Mobius, the internees were housed on blocks based on ethnicity and race. This continued act of dividing and turning people against each other lead us to my favorite message from Internment—“we are all American”. As Ahmed wrote in her moving author’s note:

America is a nation, yes, but it is also an idea based on a creed.

There are so many ways to be American, just as there are so many ways to be Muslim or any other thing someone wants to label themselves as. Still, no matter what type of an American someone is, at the end of the day, people live and come to the U.S. to make something of themselves because there’s a belief engraved in the nation that it’s a place they can.

Despite the risk, Layla and an array of youth members organized plans to stand their ground and resist the rhetoric that Muslims Americans are lesser Americans because of their faith. I liked the emphasis Ahmed placed on the younger generation being proponents for change, just as they were in past civil rights movements. While the older adults of the camp practiced forbearance in wake of their fate, the youth couldn’t let the lives they’ve barely begun be reduced to hushed whispers and tiptoeing around obdurate Islamophobes who felt threatened by their mere existence.

“In the quiet of the night, the heart knows the lies you told to survive.”

We are all American, resisting fear, and the passionate youth. Even though I appreciated all these themes Ahmed was trying to convey and thought there were some beautiful lines in the book, I was bummed that the actual plot was quite stale.

Initially, Internment caught my attention because it was something that could very much happen as it had happened and is happening. Yet, even with all the plausibility at its disposal, situations in the story felt contrived and disconnected. I was repeatedly taken out of the narrative since I couldn’t imagine so many of the events that transpired playing out in the real world.

Additionally, I flew through the book, only because every other page was a variation of Layla grappling with the danger of being caught by the overly simplified, villainous director of Mobius, Layla pining for her boyfriend on the outside, and then everything conveniently working in Layla’s favor.

To put simply, Internment was tethered to too many YA fiction clichés for a story that was alluding to a grim reality.

What was more, after surging through a story I felt I had read already, it concluded with a resolution so short-lived that I thought my book was missing another chapter.

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Internment by Samira Ahmed was an ambitious and bold attempt to write a parable urging people not to repeat the mistakes of history. Unfortunately, the powerful themes and sprinkles of touching quotes weren’t enough to save what was ultimately another forced and pallid YA dystopian.

☆☆.5

it was okay


Thanks for reading! Have you read Internment before? Would you want to if you haven’t? Let me know 🙂.
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9 thoughts on “Book Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed // powerful themes, but disappointing execution

  1. Awww that’s too bad. I feared this would be all preaching with little story to keep us occupied. It sounds like it was quite shallow in the end. Personally I don’t think anyone should be judged by how you can label them. Its very prevalent to do so though in our digital age. We don’t realize the people we hurt. On the other side I have read about Muslims taking over communities and forcing children in schools to convert. While it was the people’s fault for allowing all Muslims to take over their boards of schools I do think it’s against the American way to force religion. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I felt very unsatisfied with the whole book ☹️. I’m glad you can appreciate the message too though 🙂!
      Also, I think it’s normal to feel cautious about something unfamiliar, especially when something as worrisome and unacceptable as what you mentioned happens. I agree that it’s against the American way to force religion, or any personal ideals for that matter, yet it continues to be attempted by extreme followers of many religions—the key word being extreme. It’s unfortunate that extremists can spoil the entire image of a group that’s already scrutinized for being foreign and dangerous.
      Truthfully, I reside in a very multicultural area next to the largest Muslim community of a certain Middle Eastern country in the US. I had Muslim friends, classmates, and teachers and never felt threatened or pressured to think one way because of them. They’re just people with different customs (and good food 😋).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so sorry that this book was disappointing for you, but this review was honestly so good! I completely got what you liked and didn’t like about this book! And honestly, I’ve read a lot of reviews that agree with you, so sadly I’m not gonna be picking this book up, even though its message seems admirable and powerful. I don’t think it’s right to have a caricature-like villain in a story like this that tries to convey a powerful lesson, because that’s really not how it works in real life :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Caitlin 💕!
      Yeah, it seemed that a lot of people were underwhelmed with this book despite all its initial hype ☹️. It’s really a book you can put off I think, especially since you already understand its message 🙂. And “caricature-like”!! That’s the word I was looking for 😅! You’re exactly right that’s not how real life works 😕. People are more black and white.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This review is fantastic! I ended up DNFing this book last year, even though the themes were amazing and so important as you pointed out – I simply couldn’t get into the writing style or the focus on the romance. I really wish this book had worked better, though, since it definitely does seem to have a message that everyone needs to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Margaret! I was seriously considering DNFing the book too, but I was holding out hope that it would get better 😓. Also, I’m not usually one to dislike romance in stories, but the focus in this one definitely felt misplaced. It’s really too bad the book didn’t work out better 😕.

      Like

  4. Lovely review, Belle, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this SO eloquently, I just loved reading this so much. I’m sorry this ended up being a disappointing read though, it had so much potential to be really amazing 😦 I hope your next one will be better ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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