Author: Samira Ahmed
Published: March 19, 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Contemporary
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.
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.
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.