A YA dystopian novel set in a near-future US where Muslims are placed in internment camps? Yes, please! (If this premise sounds outlandish to you, then perhaps you aren’t living in the same world I am and/or you’ve forgotten about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s. Excluding an entire class of Americans based on unfounded fears happens to be a part of our history.) Samira Ahmed’s Internment creates this hypothetical world, and it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019.
Bravo to Ahmed for writing this book, and I’m glad to see that it’s doing well in the YA market. I enjoyed seeing a beautiful tafseer of ayah al-kursi in a book put out by a major publisher. I hope readers of all backgrounds will see parts of themselves in the Muslim characters and have important conversations about oppression and silent complicity.
I really wanted to love this one, especially since it tackles such an important topic, but while the premise of the novel was great, the execution wasn’t there for me.
This novel is replete with all of the tropes of a bad YA dystopian novel: a super evil bad guy director, lovers torn apart by forces bigger than them, a one-dimensional female rebel protagonist, and a whole slew of unlikely but convenient plot points to help along the way.
The characters are flat and unlikable. The main character, high school senior Layla, only has two modes: (1) talking back to her parents and other authority figures and (2) kissing her boyfriend. The evil Director (with a capital D) antagonist actually pounds his fist on the table and says things like “Do you know who I am?” and “I’m not stupid, girl.”
The government agency running the camp is actually called the Exclusion Authority. In what world do evil politicians actually name things correctly? (Wouldn’t it have been named according to its stated, as opposed to real, goal? For example, the Freedom Authority? Or the Safety Authority?)
I also found the novel incredibly slow, and I think it suffered from the fact that we only get a few hours of the world of the novel outside of the camps (they are transferred almost immediately and there aren’t any flashbacks). I would have loved to have seen more of the steps that got them to the point of internment.
I’d love to hear from others who have read this or who have been anticipating this one. What do you think? Is anyone else over that tropey style of YA?
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5