Internment

Trigger warning: Islamophobia

It’s been one year since the census landed seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her family on the registry. Five months since the attorney general ruled there was precedent for relocation of citizens during times of war. And one month since the president declared that ‘Muslims are a threat to America’.

Now, Layla and her parents are suddenly taken from their home and 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.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, Internment is a heart-racing and emotional novel that challenges readers to fight the complicit silence that exists in society today.

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Internment by Samira Ahmed is a chilling and powerful peek into a potential future America. Muslim Americans are forced to sign up to a so-called ‘Muslim registry’, book burnings of Islamic texts and literature by Muslim authors are a regular occurrence and exclusion laws are in place preventing Muslims from entering the country. People live under nightly curfew. Lots of Muslim parents have withdrawn their children from school, fearing for their safety in institutions that have turned against them. Muslims working in the public sector have all been fired from their jobs.

Soon the hostile environment moves into its next horrifying phase: internment. Layla and her parents are removed from their home at gun point and sent to a camp in the middle of the desert. There, people are separated into ethnic groups (classic colonialist move), given no access to the internet or any kind of news outside of the camp’s electrified fences and forced to adjust to a life of imprisonment and all the terror, random acts of violence and isolation that come with that.

Internment is very much Layla’s story. It’s an introspective look at her experience of internment: her constant fear, her frustration with her parents and their obedience to the rules of the camp – born only of course of a desire to remain safe, but nonetheless awful to Layla – and her growth from regular teenage girl to an activist and freedom fighter under duress.

Ahmed expertly crafted this book so as you read every page with baited breath, tense and unable to relax. It’s a relentless novel filled with dangers known – and perhaps even more frightening, mysterious. Some people are beaten by guards for all to see, others vanished from the camp without explanation. Even in moments of relative calm there is no escape from the ever-present feeling of danger. This is no more evident than in Layla’s developing relationship with one of the camp’s guards. A solider seemingly sympathetic to the plight of Layla and her fellow inmates, Layla’s relationship with Jake made me very uncomfortable. While Jake does act like a friend and an ally, he still works for the regime and the extremity of the power imbalance in their relationship makes every early scene between the pair – to me, anyway – almost unbearably tense and, for lack of a better word, icky. Yes, right now this man is acting as Layla’s ally, but it is impossible to forget that ultimately, he has power over her – in the form of a gun and a climate of disregard for the Muslims imprisoned in the camp. Basically, he could do what he wanted to her and no one would stop him – and even when he behaved kindly, that was impossible to forget.

Jake, unfortunately, is where my problems with Internment began. While it is a powerful story, I couldn’t help but feel that it could have been more. Though they would have been difficult to read, there were elements of life in the camp I felt could have been better fleshed out. The way internees had the potential to turn against each other, for example, was touched upon but not fully explored; different Muslim identities were acknowledged, but without much depth; in perhaps the part that upset me most, the sexual abuse almost certainly happening in the camp was acknowledged by Jake in a way that felt almost… throwaway. I think perhaps the reason these missing elements bothered me quite so much is because of the amount of the narrative that is dedicated to Layla’s relationship with Jake, the white guard. His arc of redemption was probably the least interesting to me, and, in my opinion, was dedicated far too much time and yet still not enough complexity – or criticism.

Then there was the novel’s tendency to fall into some of the tropes of YA. Layla took massive risks throughout to spend time with her boyfriend, David that felt… kind of unrealistic to me. Being forcibly separated from your partner is a kind of pain I couldn’t even imagine, but sneaking your boyfriend into an internment camp where both your lives are in danger for what basically amounted to a quick make out sesh… really?

Ultimately, Internment is an upsetting and necessary read about the impact of Islamophobia taken to one of its most extreme possible outcomes. It’s chilling because it’s realistic. I read Internment the week following the Christchurch shootings, in which there was an increase in Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK. A few days later there was a report in The Guardian from the UNHCR that 15 refugee children, mostly from Afghanistan, being held in Calais by the UK awaiting family unification – some of them for up to a year are currently undertaking a hunger strike out of desperation to have their cases finally heard. What’s upsetting about Internment is what could happen – but it’s also what’s happening now.

Internment, though imperfect, points out the ways that we are complicit in crimes being committed right now and challenges you to finally step into the fight.

Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

26. Loves a good story.

8 thoughts on “Internment”

  1. This sounds like a horror story to be honest and one that could totally be possible in our age and time. I like the ideas behind it but I totally understand the issues you have with it too. That odd relationship definitely promises some interesting dynamics too though! Great review as always, Lydia! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a wonderful review, thank you so much for sharing! ❤ I haven't read Internment just yet, but it sounds like such a relevant story nowadays, I really can't wait to jump in. I'm a little sad about how Jake's arc didn't feel satisfying to you though! Thank you for sharing this ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you ❤

      So relevant! I'm glad that I read it and it is definitely a valuable addition to the conversation about Islamaphobia and particularly the ways in which society is complicit in it – even those who perhaps think that they aren't part of the problem. It just made me sad that the story was lacking in some pretty significant ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh wow! This sounds like such a powerful book yet it seemed to give too much importance to seemingly uninteresting elements… Like, why write about Muslims and then highlight the white guard’s redemption?? Why have a power-imbalance relationship in the first place? It feels like erasure, which seeing as the author IS Muslim (I would assume) makes no sense to me.
    Also, it sounds like too much time was invested in romance and relationships instead of focusing on the real issue there, which was the Imprisionment. Why? Such a wasted opportunity to make an impact, and throw away such an impressive idea. I mean, like you said, this could very well be the future America and yet it doesn’t do it justice at all.
    I honestly felt so disappointed reading your review xD I’m glad you were still able to enjoy it but seriously, it made me angry just thinking what this could have been and how the author chose not to go for it… It could have been an Anne Frank and instead diverged into A Place for Wolves. Which, if you’re not familiar with it, is this YA about two gay teens living “the horrors” of the Kosovo War. It’s a debut that has been cancelled by the publisher following all the backlash that seemed to take over social media a few months ago. I won’t bore you too much with it but feel free to research it if you want, it’s erm… interesting to say the least.
    Anyway, wonderful post, Lydia! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am familiar with the A Place For Wolves disaster, yes. When will authors learn that real life horror stories aren’t really great settings for teen romances…?

      I was so surprised by it too! The more I think about it the more it bothers me, how this guard was given priority over so many of the actual internees that also featured in the book. It was like there was a very conscious effort being made to water the plot down. And okay, I know I’m coming at this as an adult, but teens are some of the most politically aware and active people in society right now – they don’t need to have a serious story dressed up with the tropes of any other contemporary YA novel in order to take an interest. They’re interested! And yeah, the full redemption arc that the white guard went on was just so uncomfortable for me. I think we just so badly need to get past the point of awarding brownie points to white people for coming to basic realisations about their complicity when it comes to holding up a racist society and there REALLY wasn’t enough analysis of the situation on that front. There were some ‘you helped create this camp!’ type fights between Layla and Jake but then next thing you knew they’d be sharing a hug that made me uncomfortable and completely undermined any points Ahmed had previously made about him.

      It was very frustrating, especially as there were some aspects of the book that got everything so right, you know? She would do all this work building this truly horrifying situation and then totally undermine it with something silly.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review Lydia – this one is already on my TBR because something like this happening in America feels scarily realistic. But, like other comments have said, it’s disappointing that the focus of the story seems to be on the romantic elements. It sounds like it would have been a far more powerful story without it – especially with the white male redemption arc.
    I think this will stay on my TBR but perhaps as a lower priority.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that it’s definitely worth reading – while I definitely think the story could have been a lot stronger than it was, it still feels like a very important look at the scary political moment that we’re living in.

      Liked by 1 person

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