It’s been nearly 300 days since the US government has banned people from Syria, Yemen, Iran, Libya, Somalia (and North Korea and Venezuela) from entering the US. Thousands of children were separated from their parents at the southern border last year, and detained in cages. Hate crimes on the rise, a government rhetoric that spews disregard, hatred, and lies, and a continued indifference and disbelief of the general population make what happens in this novel extremely plausible.
It was hard for me to give this an accurate rating, based on my personal feelings, but a 4 is a good average: 5 for the actual premise of the novel and the necessary wakeup call for the general population, 3 for the delivery/plot/characters.
I couldn’t put this book down. I HAD to know what happened, even though there were parts that I plowed through to get to the nitty gritty of the plot. I loved (not a good word for this subject matter but you get my drift) parts of the story, and didn’t like other parts, but all in all it comes together in a way that is readable, and current.
What I liked:
· Samira Ahmed does a great job showing how easy it is to move from bans to exclusion acts to internment camps. Anyone who doesn’t believe that this timeline is plausible in the US needs to go back to their history lessons, and then take a good look at what is currently happening on their doorstep.
· There are certain scenes that take your breath away (mainly in the first few chapters where Layla’s fear is palpable).
· The importance of speaking up in light of hate is highlighted all through the novel: apathy kills. I think this is a great reminder for teens that their voices can be heard.
· I loved the representation: Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and Muslims live all over the world. Islam is not a race or an ethnicity, it is celebrated by people from different cultures, backgrounds, countries everywhere, US included.
What I didn’t think was so great:
· The story is all told in the first person through the main character Layla’s voice. This means that the reader gets a direct view of everything that is happening through the eyes and ears of a teenager directly affected by the events, but I think that it doesn’t actually do the story justice. A third person narrative may have provided a better lay of the land, and a more detailed build up. I actually liked Layla, and thought that her thoughts and reactions were very plausible for a 17 year old, but by focusing solely on her story I think that the plot loses in richness. I also think that the author’s writing style is more suited to a third person narrative.
· The characters are a little flat. Layla’s parents are portrayed as meek and submissive, Jake the random “good” guard as strong but gentle, Layla as impulsive and outspoken, the evil director just evil etc etc. I also think that a third person narrative would have helped with character building too, creating more rounded, deeper characters.
· The story feels a little rushed. I would have been happy with a 100 more pages that helped develop the setting a little better. I had no issue understanding how the internment camps came into existence, but it would have been nice to have more of a background setting. Jake, for example, is a soldier in the National Guard – how were they recruited into the Exclusion Guard?
All in all this is a good book, but I honestly think that it would make a brilliant TV show or movie. I hope someone makes that happen!