you need to read: Internment
Typically, I’m not very vocal when it comes to politics. Even though I clearly have stances, as a teacher I try to appear neutral, often playing both sides as I encourage my students to find their voices. Outside of the classroom, I will talk political subject matter in person if it arises, but I often refuse to say anything online, not for fear of speaking up, but because of the way people engage on social media. I just don’t want to be a part of that. But in this time, when there is so much unrest and upheaval in our society, I’m reminded of Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize Speech when he says:
We are living in a time where we must begin to speak up. Something that I feel more encouraged to do after reading Samira Ahmed’s newest YA novel, Internment. I’m a little late in reading this as it was published back in March, but it’s a book that has been on my radar since I read an early copy of her first book, Love, Hate & Other Filters (Jan 2018) which I absolutely loved and raved about all last year. Ahmed is an Indian-American writer who brings such passion to her stories, and her debut was an #ownvoices novel about Maya Aziz, a teen coming-of-age who confronts Islamophobia & cultural divide in her hometown. It was an eye opening read for me, pairing the dichotomy of a seemingly ordinary everyday teen life with the harsh reality of our not-so-teeny-bopper world. After reading it, I wanted more so when I first heard about Internment, I added it to my TBR pile immediately.
Internment is a YA political/dytopian novel that centers around 17 year-old Layla Amin, an Indian American Muslim who is forced into an internment camp with her parents during a time of political unrest. Set in the near future, the story tackles our current political climate while exploring what could happen should history repeat itself today. From within the walls of the camp, Layla and her new friends rise up against the director and choose to resist in a time when others around them are staying silent.
you need to read this because…
I could not put this book down. Had our plane home from vacation not landed, I would’ve finished the book in one sitting, and I’m already working on ways to integrate it into my curriculum this year. Internment is a fast-paced and gripping read as we watch this young girl lead a revolution of hope and resistance by finding her voice. Though Internment is a work of fiction, there is a scary truth to it that fueled a fire in me for change. Because as I was reading, watching Layla’s story unfold, I was constantly reminded of WWII.
The Nazis & fascist regime masked by nationalism. A people group persecuted for their religion.
Japanese-American internment camps on our own soil.
A people group persecuted for race.
Fast forward to our current political crisis & the call to nationalism.
Migrant camps on our own US borders. Travel bans.
And racism running rampant.
Internment is dystopian in nature (in that it’s set in an imagined state/society where there is great suffering or injustice) but it seems to me that this near future could happen at any second if we let it. I couldn’t help but grow more and more angry as I read this novel, not at the story, but at the injustice woven throughout the plot. An injustice that’s timely.
At one point, after Layla and her family enter the camp, they go through an orientation where the Director introduces them to the camp and it’s structure. This scene, among others, struck a chord with me as he says,“ You’ll notice we’ve divided the blocks by your ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The Authority believes you’ll be more comfortable among your own people” (93). As readers, we are privy to Layla’s thought of “My people are Americans. All of them.” (93) And yet, there is an entire group of people in our society, ahem, the novel’s, who don’t see things her way.
Amed ends her book with an in-depth author’s note explaining our own history of WWII and referencing her inspiration for the writing which includes the internment camps of the 40’s stating: “The events in Internment are deeply rooted in our history. You are bearing witness to them now, in our present.” She references the refugee camps on our own borders. Muslim bans. Border walls.
And police brutality.
But also in her note, she tells readers she has hope at a future that will change and challenges us to hope alongside her, making choices that will bring that change.
Which will happen if enough people resist.
Internment is an unsettling yet valuably important novel of our time.
It’s a book that challenges us to resist & to stay silent no longer.
It’s a book you need to read.
Internment is heavy in language, particularly the f-word and there are several scenes of violence, all of which I feel is very needed for a story of this caliber. If you hand this to younger readers, I challenge you to read it first and then to talk to them about the story. About our history. About our present. Then hope alongside them and get involved.
Check out #readinternment on Instagram & Twitter for more about the book.