Rebellions are built on hope. Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards. Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
What worked: This is listed as a dystopian novel, but I disagree. We're living this right now with undocumented migrants being sent to internment camps in the United States. Reading Ahmed's novel felt like watching the news.
There's so much within this novel that speaks out against staying silent while neighbors are targeted around them. How a leader of a nation first dehumanizes a group of people by calling them 'animals', 'rapists' and 'criminals'. Even worse when he labels them 'illegal aliens'.
Layla is a strong, heroic protagonist. What I love about this novel, even though it shows the ugliness of racism and nationalism masked as "patriotism", it also shows the power of standing up and fighting back. It shows how it is courageous to take a stand. Yes, it is frightening too. Layla and her friends within the camp witness this first hand.
Layla's parents are sympathetic and try to protect her from what is going on around them. David, Layla's boyfriend, tries to help her out by publishing reports that she has smuggled out. He even records an incident that goes viral.
What is equally frightening is how fast freedoms one takes for granted can be stripped away. But this has happened in the past. Japanese Americans in 1941. Mexican Reparation Act of the 1930s. Trail of Tears. Readers see through Layla's eyes the horror of being stripped of everything and labeled a 'enemy of the state'. Equally haunting is the UV ID numbers that are placed on everyone's wrist. Even though no one else can see the numbers, they are there.
Readers see what happens within the internment camp. How people are segregated by color and region. But there's also those inside that try to help out and get word of what is going on to those outside of the camp.
Very powerful images throughout with a strong protagonist that refuses to stay silent while being targeted based on her religion. Gripping and a must-read. I also strongly feel it should be in every high school library. This book would be great for High School Civics class discussions. Mostly though it reminds readers that those who forget history, repeat it.
"Lately I've been thinking hope is kind of a flimsy feeling to hold on to."
Layla's parents have lost their jobs because no one wants to employ Muslims, and her father's poetry books are frequently being burned in the book burnings. Life already feels pretty terrible when Layla must sneak out to see her boyfriend, David who is Jewish, around her suspension from school (for PDA that everyone else- read non-Muslim- does) and the curfews imposed on Muslims. However, life is about to get even worse when Layla and her family are grabbed late in the evening and given 10 minutes to pack a single bag of necessities before being sent to an internment camp. The story of their journey to the 'camp' is very similar to that of the Japanese Americans during World War II.
"If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for anything."
The horrors of the camp and the new reality for Americans is undeniable and does not feel as unreal as it should, considering the events in the news and our past. Told through the poignant voice of Layla, we experience these terrible possibilities. The importance of developing and using your voice against such atrocities is a clear theme and stand-out message of the book. The potential reality of what could happen with complacency is all too clear.
"You need only glance at the vastness of the sky and the multitude of the stars to know the infinite depth of our love."
Layla's parents are sympathetic characters. They will not deny their religion, but they cannot believe what is happening to them. While they will not comply or collaborate as some others do, they are reluctant to start a rebellion for fear of what would happen to their daughter. They hope for better things, not only for themselves, but for their children, as many parents do. They represent the way many people feel with responsibilities hindering their willingness to act out against injustice. Add this to the many people from the community who are shown, such as David (who is not sure at first how to help), his parents (who are not acting but more powerful), the internment guards (who do not all agree but continue to do their jobs), the community members who turned their back on Layla and family, and the protesters (who are described), and you have a multitude of perspectives and opinions that are shown. However, the importance of developing and giving your voice to speak out against hatred and injustice is very clear.
"It's not a single heartbeat that calls the storm. It's the power of our voices joined together, demanding justice. It's the thunder of our collective feet marching for our freedom."
I think I could write all day about all the amazing characters developed here and the poignant message spread through the pages. I cannot tell you how many times I found tears in my eyes while reading Layla's story- this book really touched me in ways I did not expect. I cannot tell you enough how much I recommend picking it up for everyone. This is book for the ages that delivers a timeless and critical story about the importance of using your voice and checking yourself against the growing prejudices, hatred, and fear that can potentially grip our nation. A gripping must-read.