Internment

Rating: ⭐
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian
Pub date: Mar. 19, 2019 (Read Feb. 2019)

Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I was really excited about this book, I thought the premise sounded super interesting and appropriate for the current political climate. I read Samira Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate, & Other Filters, last year and didn’t really like it, but I was super optimistic about this book and even included it on my most anticipated books of 2019 list. I’m still really glad a book like this exists, but sadly I was very disappointed with it. I may just not be the intended audience for this anymore as someone in my late twenties, but it really didn’t work for me.

Like I said, the premise of the book is great. It’s about Muslim teenager, Layla Amin. Since the inauguration of the new president, America has seen a lot of changes. Muslims were asked to identify themselves in the latest census and with the creation of the new Muslim registry, Layla has been forced out of school and her parents have been forced out of their jobs. Then one day, the police show up at her home and escort her entire family to America’s first internment camp in the middle of the California desert.

The camp is called Mobius. At Mobius, Muslims are divided into blocks by ethnicity and forced to live in small trailers. Her parents do their best to adapt to this new life and keep their heads down, but Layla misses her old life and boyfriend on the outside and starts to rebel against the camp’s Director and his racist policies. But what will be the cost for her rebellion and as a teenager, does she really have the power to change anything?

I’m really glad a book like this exists and I hope it gets into the hands of the right people. But what I struggled to understand was who the intended audience is? Is it meant for the already liberal-minded? Is it hoping to expand the opinions of those who are unsure where they sit in the current political climate? Is it targeted at the MAGA faction that is scared and hateful towards those who are different from themselves? Or is it just meant to give voice to the rage and pain of American Muslims? As an already liberal minded person, this didn’t really challenge my thinking or offer me any new insights, but I think it could be a great book for younger teens who are confused by politics or whose views may differ from those of their parents and they don’t know where to turn for information. So I’m really glad this book exists and I hope it can help inform teenagers or just support Muslim American teenagers in feeling heard.

The reason I didn’t like it is because it’s so heavy handed. Nothing about this book is subtle and I felt like the author was just trying to beat me over the head with her politics. It’s the prime example of why “show, don’t tell” is so much more effective and enjoyable. I don’t think Ahmed trusts her readers at all. She spells out every single point and action of her characters and doesn’t trust her readers to come to their own conclusions. She is constantly telling us how Layla is feeling rather that letting her circumstances and actions speak for themselves. Layla also didn’t feel like a teenager to me. She felt a bit like a 17 year old espousing an adult’s viewpoints. I like to think teenagers are this woke, but she knew a lot of random historical facts about Japanese internment camps and other politically motivated rebellions around the world. Overall it added to the book, but felt a little forced coming from a teenager who mostly just seems overly into her boyfriend.

I went back to look at my review of Ahmed’s first book and I have similar complaints with this book. I felt like her characters were so 1-dimensional and that the emotional connection to them was just really lacking. Her characters feel more like caricatures and it made it hard to relate to any of them. I was frustrated by how obsessed Layla was with David when she had so many more pressing concerns. All of her relationships felt extremely surface level and I never felt that any of her relationships had any great depth. She talks about how she’s worried about the impact her actions might have on her parents, but I never really felt any tension because I didn’t feel any connection between the characters to begin with.

I thought the Director was the greatest caricature of the novel. He was too classically evil for me to ever take him seriously. I thought the Director represented a great opportunity to influence your readers and hopefully alter their mindsets. But the Director is too much of a villain that he doesn’t incite that feeling of righteous anger or conflict. If your goal is to alter someone’s mindset or opinions, you need a more nuanced villain. Someone who you can almost relate to, but highlights the flaws of conservative America. No one will relate to the Director, so it’s easy to dismiss him as just a hateful asshole. He doesn’t make you question your thoughts or views and that was the main way that this novel failed for me.

I think liberals will read this book and be reminded of why they are frustrated with the current administration, while conservatives will read the book and think it’s ridiculous and Muslims just trying to paint white people as the bad guys. Just to clarify, I do not think that’s what this book is doing at all. I think this is actually a story to give voice to the feelings that Ahmed has about the direction America is going. And if this story gives voice to that rage and pain for Ahmed and for readers like her, then I think this book has achieved something great. I am not American and I am not Muslim, so who am I to say that this book doesn’t have value? I do believe it has value, I just wanted it to be more nuanced because I want white Americans to pick up this book and read a viewpoint that they hadn’t really thought about. I want them to see Muslims as people and that their viewpoints might be changed by reading about this horrifying near-future scenario. I guess I just don’t have very much faith in people’s ability to change and I thought this book was just too surface level to change the viewpoints of people that don’t already agree with this book.

However, it is unfair of me to put that responsibility on the author. She is not responsible to change people’s minds. It’s why I question who her audience is? As an Own Voices book, I can really see this working for some people and I really hope that it does. If you are an American Muslim feeling outcast in your school, or your community, or your country, then I hope this is the book that you needed to pick up to feel seen and understood. This book wasn’t what I was hoping it would be, but I am probably not the intended audience. I fully support the themes Ahmed tackles in this book, her writing style and methods just aren’t for me. I hate to be critical of books like this because I do think they are extremely important and authors need to be supported to write them. But I also don’t want to give good reviews to a book just because I’m glad it exists – I still want it to be a thoughtful and well-written book. I thought this book had so much potential and honestly, I just wanted more from it. But hopefully it will make its way into the hands of the right readers!

One last criticism I have of this book is that I’m uncomfortable with the number of famous quotes and ideas that Ahmed includes without referencing the source material. I think she is paying homage to some great people, but it rubs me the wrong way when those individuals are not referenced. The tagline on the back is “rebellions are built on hope”, which is obvious to me that it’s from the Star Wars Rogue One movie. The characters repeatedly joke about their love of star wars, but this quote is used without every directly attributing it to Star Wars. Two others that I picked up on were that she has one of her characters reference how “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, which has been attributed to Hamilton and Malcolm X among others, and Layla repeatedly says “the people united will never be defeated”. Please reference these individuals because otherwise it seems like you are trying to pass these ideas off as your own.

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September Summary

I was on vacation for 2 weeks in September, so I’m pretty satisfied with what I read this month. My monthly challenge was to start re-reading the Throne of Glass series in anticipation of the series finale coming out at the end of October. My monthly summary is:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 3,312
Main genres: Fantasy
Favourite book: Wuthering Heights
Favourite Re-read: Crown of Midnight

Like I said, I started off the month with the first 3 books in the Throne of Glass series: Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire. I’ve been dying to re-read this series for a while now, but I made myself wait until closer to the release of the last book so that it would all be fresh in my mind. Throne of Glass was one of my first major fantasy series, so I was curious if I’d like it as much the second time around, and I absolutely did! I’d forgotten just how epic Crown of Midnight was and I even upped my rating of Heir of Fire from 3 stars to 4 stars the second time around. I enjoyed it a lot more this time.

I read two audiobooks this month as well. I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights on Audible on impulse when they had it on sale for $5. I listened to Emma earlier this year and was keen to try out another classic. What I was not expecting was how much I absolutely adored Wuthering Heights! I know it’s a polarizing book and I know a lot of people who hate it. I kind of anticipated I wouldn’t like it as I don’t love a lot of classics, but I was so very wrong. I won’t go into detail what I loved about it though as I wrote a very detailed review about my thoughts.

The second audiobook was Neverworld Wake, a young adult/sci-fi/mystery thriller novel about a group of teenagers forced to live the same day over and over again. It had an interesting enough plot, but I didn’t love it because I thought it could have been better executed.

I also read two ARC’s this month, although I was a bit late reading the first one as it’s already been published. I read The Lost Queen, which is the first book in a new historical trilogy about 6th century Scotland, and Girls of Paper and Fire, a new YA fantasy book that I’d been hearing lots of good things about. The Lost Queen fell into the trap I’ve been having with a lot of my books lately in that I liked it at the end (appreciated the story), but found it kind of boring to read. In contrast, Girls of Paper and Fire was wonderful and kept me on the edge of my seat with the most wonderful queer relationship at the center of the story.

Finally, I read a short graphic novel/web series that’s set in Vancouver called Always Raining Here. This one was a quick read to boost my numbers, but I keep seeing it at my local bookstore and was intrigued about it. It’s about two gay high school students and the pressures of succeeding in high school and the struggles of being a gay teenager. I had mixed feelings because I liked parts of the story, but found other parts extremely problematic.

Anyways, I read some pretty large books this month, several were over 500 pages, so I’m quite happy with what I read and thrilled to be heading into October and November, which are easily my favourite reading months!

August Summary

Okay, August was the best! Well, for books anyways. The wildfires in BC are totally out of control and the air quality was atrocious, so I didn’t do quite as much outdoor stuff, which is one of the reasons it was a great month for books! But also, my August monthly challenge just totally re-vitalized me and got me out of my reading slump!

I was getting a bit hung up with my monthly challenges and the pressure to read specific books, so in August I just set myself the challenge to read pretty much whatever I wanted by trying to read as many of my existing books as possible. I have a lot of un-read books, so it left me with lots of selection to choose from and I finally read some books that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Here’s my summary:

Books read: 11
Pages read: 4,208
Main genres: Young Adult
Favourite book: Nevermoor and Women Talking!

I started off the month with Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli’s newest book. I’ve heard really great things about this one and I’ve been meaning to get to it for a while, but unfortunately I didn’t love it. I’m really hit or miss with Albertalli’s books and I’m finding myself counter to popular opinion on her books. I liked but didn’t love Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda (but I LOVED the movie) and I really liked The Upside of Unrequited, which I would say is her least popular book. But I didn’t like this one either. Leah kind of rubbed with the wrong way and while I still loved all the diversity in this book, I found parts of it problematic.

After that, I decided to participate in the 25infive readathon, which challenges people to read for 25 hours over the span of 5 days. I didn’t quite finish the challenge (I read 23 hours over 4 days), but I read 4.5 books, so I was super pleased with myself. I started with Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend and Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. I totally flew through both books and I am not slightly obsessed with Nevermoor. Nevermoor is totally Middle Grade fantasy at it’s best and I confirm that the comparison’s to Harry Potter are valid and that everyone should read this book because it is just so much fun! I also loved Radio Silence, which is about the struggles of senior year and the pressure to go to University, and I will definitely be reading more of Alice Oseman.

I followed up those with Ten by Gretchen McNeil and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. I pretty much hated Ten and found it problematic and kind of offensive, but I thought To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was really cute. I was only inspired to pick this one up because the new Netflix movie looked really cute (can now confirm – it is cute). Lara Jean seemed like the type of YA book that I gave up long ago, but I loved that this was more a story about sisters than it was about boys and I thought it was really cute. I also read the sequel this month though, P.S. I Still Love You, and unfortunately I thought it was no where near as strong as the first book and basically unnecessary.

While I did read P.S. I Still Love You in August, it wasn’t part of my 25infive reading challenge. The last book I tried to squeeze into the challenge was Uprooted (I got halfway through during the challenge). Uprooted was a challenge for me. It’s a well written, traditional fairytale type story, but I found it so slow moving that it was really hard for me to get into it.

I interspersed my reading of Uprooted with The Last Time I Lied, which was definitely the opposite in terms of pace. This was my first Riley Sager book and it wasn’t quite as scary as I was anticipating, but I really enjoyed it. It was a solid mystery thriller book about a girl name Emma whose 3 friends disappeared at summer camp when she was 13. She’s returned to the camp as an adult and 3 more girls disappear, forcing her into a race against time to figure out what really happened 15 years ago. I was convinced that I had the mystery figured out and I was thrilled to find out I got it totally wrong and didn’t see the twist coming at the end at all.

I had one book that I had to read in August, which was for my book club, was Circe by Madeline Miller, the new fantasy book that came out this year and has super good reviews. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with this one, similar to Uprooted. I thought the story was really good, but it was a slow read for me and the reading experience overall wasn’t great, even though I did like the story.

I read Women Talking by Miriam Toews towards the end of this month and it was definitely one of the best books I read this year! It’s a fictional account of the true story of a community of Bolivian, Mennonite women who were attacked and raped in their sleep over the course of 4 years. After the crime is discovered, the women meet to discuss what to do about it and the whole book is basically a group of them talking about whether they should leave the community or stay and fight. The writing in this book is wonderful and the content is so thoughtful. I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone and everyone.

Finally, I finished the month with a re-read of The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J Maas, which is the prequel to the Throne of Glass series. I am a bit obsessed with this series and with the final book coming out in October, I’ve decided to re-read the whole series! The Assassin’s Blade was just as good as I remembered and I can’t wait to jump into the rest of the books in September!

Tiger Lily

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: .5
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Read: Feb. 2018

Apparently I’m on a bit of EpicReads kick and have just read two books in a row recommended by Margot Wood. I was a little skeptical about whether I would actually like Ruined or not, but I loved it. Tiger Lily I suspected I would really like, and I did, but maybe not quite as much as a thought I would.

You’ll have to forgive my ignorance of the Peter Pan universe, I have only ever seen the Disney film and that was ages ago, so I actually remember very little about Peter Pan, with the exception that he’s the boy that never grows up. I didn’t remember who Tiger Lily was at all, but this story basically focuses on the love story Tiger Lily has with Peter before Wendy shows up. The story is narrated by Tinkerbell, who can’t speak, but follows Tiger Lily around and is a little bit of an omniscient narrator since she can flit back and forth and spy on all the characters.

First of all, the writing is beautiful! Props to Jodi Lynn Anderson, this is the first of her books that I’ve read and I was really impressed with the writing. I never really cared for Tinkerbell in the film, but she makes a damn good narrator. In some ways this is a coming of age story. Tiger Lily has always been a bit of an outcast in her village and when she saves an Englishman who washes up on shore she becomes even more of a pariah because the villagers are scared of catching the “aging disease” from him since they never die of old age.

When she is betrothed to marry a mean villager named Giant, Tiger Lily starts spending more time away from the village and meets Peter and the lost boys and they all become very much enamoured to one another. Peter is impetuous, rash, and often unreasonable; he has a need to always be the strongest and the smartest. As the leader of the lost boys, he takes on a lot of responsibility in taking care of the boys, but he is also very lonely. He has been a boy for a very long time and you do get the sense that he is ready to grow up.

Tiger Lily is very much a young girl. She also makes rash decisions and doesn’t think too much about the consequences of her actions. She loves her village and Tik Tok, the shaman who found and raised her, but she also yearns for more. She doesn’t want to be trapped in a marriage to Giant and spend forever cooking and cleaning for him. Peter enables her escape into a new world where there are no rules. She wants to be a part of Peter’s world, but she also finds it impossible to leave her village behind.

I liked that the characters in this novel had so much depth. I didn’t really like Peter, but I liked how Anderson wrote all of these characters and captured their essence. There is definitely tragedy in this story and it is incredibly heartbreaking. The characters are all looking for and needing different things and yet nobody can be what the other person needs them to be. There are several stories going on at once and you can very much feel the era of change that is upon the island. The world is progressing, but Neverland has always been a place onto itself. The Englishman eventually integrates himself into the village and pushes christianity on the villagers, shaming the villagers for their false idols and Tik Tok for dressing in women’s clothes. It’s hard to watch the villagers forsake their traditional spirits and way of life, but it’s equally upsetting to witness the ignorance that has flourished in the village for years.

It’s a very interesting story. I think I’m probably at a 3.5 for my rating and I can’t quite pinpoint what I didn’t love about it. It’s a bit slow moving in the beginning and I never really got super into it. The writing was definitely my favourite part and how heartbreaking the story is. I really did grow to love these characters and I really felt for their hardships.

On the Jellicoe Road

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

As usual, all the stars in the world for this book! Can’t re-call if this is my 4th or 5th time reading On the Jellicoe Road, but it is still just as beautiful and moving and leaves me tearing up on the couch, feeling so emotional!

I’m pretty sure I will never stop loving this book. It is just the most gorgeous writing and story! Melina Marchetta knows how to crack your heart open and writes the most moving characters!

On the Jellicoe Road is a bit of an older YA book now, published in 2006, and is set in rural Australia. It definitely has one of the more bizarre-sounding plots, and I will admit to being a little bit confused the first time I read it because there’s a lot of characters and I didn’t realize at first that the story was switching between two different points of view, so I’ll warn readers about that up front. The main story is told by Taylor Markham, but everything that’s italicized is a different point of view.

The novel is set at a boarding school called Jellicoe, which is located about 7 hours drive from Sydney, right next to Jellicoe Town. Every year from September to November, a group of cadets come to Jellicoe to practice their outdoor skills and set up camp in the woods for 6 weeks. There are three main factions: the kids boarding at the Jellicoe school, the Cadets, and the Townies, who live and go to school in Jellicoe Town. During the 6 weeks that the Cadets visit every year, the Townies, Cadets, and Jellicoe School have a secret war going on behind the teacher’s backs and duke it out to win territory from each other.

This year Taylor has been selected as the leader of the Jellicoe School. Taylor has an unfortunate history and was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was just 11 years old. She was picked up by Hannah, who lives in a small house next to the school and spends the next 5 years attending the school. Taylor knows very little about her past and struggles with the pain she feels about being abandoned by her mother and hesitates to let anyone into her life. She is tested when at the beginning of term, Hannah, the only person who’s ever been there for her, disappears. Taylor wants more from the people in her life, but she’s afraid to love or let anyone in lest they abandon her too.

The only thing Hannah leaves behind for Taylor is an unfinished manuscript about 5 kids and a tragic accident that happened on the Jellicoe Road 22 years earlier. Taylor is confused by the story, but starts developing an attachment to Hannah’s characters, wondering if they might have more to do with her past than she realizes.

Every single thing about this story is beautiful. The best thing I’ve always loved about Marchetta’s writing is the bonds and relationships she creates between her characters. Marchetta really understands friendships and our need as humans to belong to something. Taylor is slowly falling apart in this novel and I love watching the relationships she builds with the other kids in the story and how they become friends and support each other. I love how each character has this incredible backstory that brings so much depth to the novel. I love that even Marchetta’s minor characters are fully realized individuals and that every character matters. There are never throw away characters in Melina’s novels.

This is ultimately a story about growing up and self discovery. As someone who has been shuffled around, Taylor craves history and I love the history Marchetta creates between each of the characters. Many of them are very broken people and I love watching them grow throughout the novel. Plus, the writing is so dreamy. I think the manuscript is really well written, but I also love Taylor’s inner monologue. There are so many great quotes in this book and it hits me right in the feels every time I read it.

You do not have to be a teenager to enjoy this book. It actually has some pretty dark and mature themes and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Please read, it is by far one of my most favourite books of all time!