I’m often hesitant books that are heckin’ hyped, but I’m intrigued nonetheless, and Internment by Samira Ahmed drew me in. The premise screamed reality-based speculative fiction, and I’d heard great things, but even though I was intrigued by the premise, something felt a little…off with the story. I just wasn’t as compelled by the plot as I was by the idea of the plot, if that makes sense.
In an eerily familiar dystopia, the U.S. government has decided to intern Muslims, ala Japanese internment camps in World War II. Obviously, it’s a bit of a leap from where we are politically, but really grounds itself in on-going movements. While the author never explicitly mentions Trump, she talks about “Make America Great Again” and Charlottesville and the Pulse night club shooting, etc. In that way, I’m almost sad it didn’t push the speculative fiction boundary more. It felt almost too rooted in trying to make a political statement, albeit one I think is powerful, and didn’t let itself imagine itself as pure fiction, something about story more than activism. Our protagonist is a 17-year old Muslim girl who gets interned along with her parents. She misses her boyfriend, hates the rules, thinks they’re the worst (they are), makes friends with other prisoners, etc. Obviously, Layla is a bit of an activist and wants to stand up and resist, and along the way she teams up with the friendly and the unexpected to try and take down the camp and it’s evil leader.
This is a powerful story, obviously, and I understand WHY the author was writing it, why it is timely, et cetera, but something felt lacking in the story and plot. It’s not that I didn’t care about the character, it’s just that I was waiting for…something. Some kind of shoe to drop. Some kind of larger conflict internally with Layla and her family. Some kind of insight into what the outside world was thinking. The entire plotline with the boyfriend really confused me, and left me questioning just how well this internment camp was really running, and while I understood the themes of rebellion running through, I wish the author had pushed harder to make the story sizzle within the situation rather than letting the situation carry the book.
Overall, this was a fine read. I liked it well enough, but I also wasn’t BLOWN away. I liked the situational set-up and how it forced us to think about where we are politically and where we could go if not careful, but ultimately I wasn’t as entrenched in the characters’ story as I want to be.