Book review: “Internment” is packed with powerful emotion

This compelling book by Samira Ahmed is a terrifying what-if of a possibly not so distant future.

Charged with emotion, powerful characters and courageous rebellion, “Internment” is a captivating book. The novel tells a story about what would happen if internment camps, like the ones used in World War II against Japanese Americans, were implemented in the near future by the government against Muslim people.

The story starts off with a bang, the first chapter already suspenseful, action-packed and tough to read. One of the first things that happens is a book-burning, the books of which written by Muslim authors including books written by the main character Layla’s father.

Later in that first chapter, you also find out that the government has been slowly enacting laws against Muslim people since the last elections, and that they have been getting stricter, instituting a curfew and banning Muslim immigration.

A couple of chapters later, the government uses census data to round up all the Muslims in Layla’s area and bring them to the first of many internment camps, where most of the story takes place.

This makes them feel more human and relatable and less idealized into the perfect revolutionaries.”

The characters in this novel go through highs and lows, at some points being filled with hope but at other times close to giving up on their goals and aspirations. This makes them feel more human and relatable and less idealized into the perfect revolutionaries.

Layla is a great main character. She can be impulsive and does not always make the right decisions, and her sarcasm and smart mouth can get her into terrible situations, but she’s extremely resilient which is what a story like this needs. Layla, as the protagonist, is required to persevere through terrible adversity and in a situation such as an internment camp you need incredible strength not to lose hope, and she lives up to the challenge.

The reviews for this book are polarizing, with many giving five-star reviews, but also many one and two stars reviews. Reviewers on Goodreads mentioned that Layla is too fixated on getting back to her boyfriend. Another issue readers had with the book was that the ending felt too clean.

I don’t think that Layla is too fixated on her boyfriend. Anyone in that situation would first be focused on survival, but then would turn their attention to getting back to their loved ones. Layla’s loved ones were all in the camp with her, with the only exception being her boyfriend, David, who is not Muslim and therefore not in a camp. Since David is outside, I think her being fixated on him makes sense, especially due to her love for him.

The story seems to have an ending that just wraps all the loose ends up into a bow.”

I can’t say much about the ending without spoiling it, but I believe it seems too clean for the overall story that has been told. “Internment” seems to have an ending that just wraps all the loose ends up into a bow and though that works for some books, it did not work very well here. Throughout the story, there were many moral dilemmas and I think a better ending for the story would have created lots more.

Another flaw in the book is the way all the parents in the book seem to do nothing. I understand that they are scared of the soldiers in the camp, but when their children go to protest not a single one of them lifts a finger to help. I don’t think that a rebellion run only by children is realistic.

The final significant flaw I found in the novel is that the main villain does not seem to have an understandable motive or character, and is too much like a typically arrogant, cocky, stereotypical villain. The antagonist, known simply as the Director, does not have much revealed about him, and his only motivation seems to be looking good to his superiors and gaining more power, which makes him too easy to hate and does not give him any backstory or anything to help us understand him better.

Although the main villain of the book lacks character, other antagonists are easy to relate to the main group of protagonists. As the book says, “The scariest monsters are the ones that seem just like you.” All of the antagonists in this book are humans just like Layla and the other internees, but they justify doing terrible things to people that are in a lot of ways just like them.

The scariest monsters are the ones that seem just like you.”

— Samira Ahmed

One way the antagonists push against Muslims is abusing the us vs them mentality, as the majority of the high ranking people in the government used their power to turn the rest of the United States population against Muslim-Americans. The government uses majority tyranny to dehumanize the Muslim people and justify using very extreme measures against them as a population.

This book is the current book being featured in These Books are Lit, the diversity book club here at West. I think it is definitely worth a read, as it brings up important ideas about a possible future world. Full of powerful quotes and a compelling story, “Internment” really makes you think, and while the subject matter can make it hard to read at times, the novel is worth it in the end. 

Rating: 4 out of 5