**I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.**
This book is going to be huge. HUGE. It is brilliantly timed and incredibly relevant. While it is a work of fiction, I promise you that it feels as if it could read as if it is current and real. Oh so real.
Layla and her family live in an America where they are being heavily discriminated against based on their Muslim faith. They live in a time where the current President (no names are ever given but it is painfully clear exactly who the character is mirrored after) chose to rule the US by fear and prejudice, almost encouraging the non-Muslim faith people to rally against the “enemies” and “terrorists”. This was a terrifying glimpse into what could realistically happen in our country. I was hooked.
While I gush and will continue to gush about the serious plot of this story, it certainly was not without its faults. I had a hard time connecting completely with the protagonist – Layla. While she was only 17, she had the potential to be a powerhouse of a character. What stopped that from being achieved – in my eyes – was her consistent immaturity. She had moments where she shined and stole the page, but she would ruin that all by doing something so incredibly stupid that I had to put the book down and walk away. I won’t give a lot away but here is an example:
Layla and her family are “rounded up” and taking to a camp for those that declared they were of Muslim faith. The Government declared anyone who made this declaration on the most recent census was to be moved to an Internment camp, much like the camps from WWII times. Instead of rolling over an accepting her situation, she chose to fight in the only way she could – defiance in whatever form: hunger strike, sneaking notes outside of the gate to be published, etc. Those were powerful and necessary, but it seemed she was far more concerned about risking her life and the lives of her parents simply so she could sneak 5 minutes with her boyfriend, David. She felt more boy-crazy and that being able to see/talk to/kiss David was the most important thing in the world – NOT trying to survive or keep her parents out of harms way. I didn’t feel her risking all of that was an equal trade off.
Another thing that bothered me was that not a lot of detail was given about the camp itself. As a reader I was told about the buildings and the location in which it was placed, but not about much else. I would have liked to have had more insight into the faith and prayers that were brushed over, or the practice of the Islam. I feel that would have given the story more depth.
There was one character that really stood out to me in the worst way possible: the Director. He was badly portrayed and felt cartoon-ish. He could have been hunched over train tracks twirling his mustache he was so absurd. He was the stereotypical “bad guy” that was nice to the cameras to save face, but was rotten to the core away from the public eye. He had the shortest temper and was quick to punch anyone that smarted off to him, regardless of the age of the other person. I get it, this was a time of war and he was trying to prove he could Make America Great Again by running the first camp with an extreme iron fist, but the extreme and unbelievable way he did it was almost comical.
This is an almost 400 page book and it did drone on a lot. I skimmed the last 100+ pages because reading Layla have the same internal conversation about her love for David started to wear on me. There were a lot of fluff paragraphs that could have (should have?) been removed and it would have read just fine. I’m not sorry I read this but I was hoping for a wee bit more. I had no sense of time within the story so I don’t know how much time is actually covered in this story, but I’m sure there was enough to give more insight into the daily life of the people within the camp. I would have liked to read more about that and so much less about the “romance” that was completely unnecessary.
Regardless, this story will still be HUGE and it is still very necessary. It will hopefully give motivation to all to stand up and fight with actions and/or words. I hope it sparks a movement that is needed in society today.