Updated: Oct 9, 2021
by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
Thank you to #partner NetGalley for the advance copy of this book, Safia Elhillo's Home Is Not a Country. This one comes out on March 2nd! In this YA lit novel in verse, teenager Nima explores what her life would be like if she were a different daughter and friend.
Living alone with her mom and separated from the homeland where her mother grew up, Nima feels that she doesn't really belong anywhere. She clings to the music and movies of her homeland and feels deep longing for her father who died before she was born. Her only solace is in relationship with her lifelong friend Haitham, but when that relationship crumbles, she feels completely unmoored. Between instances of bullying and outright attacks on her heritage, Nima feels shame, disappointment, and bitterness, and she and her mother both find their world getting smaller and smaller as they turn away from the cruelty of the world surrounding them. In one poem, she states,
so even here among my so-called people i do not fit
here where the hierarchy puts those who have successfully
americanized at the top i've marked myself by caring
about the old world & now i hover somewhere
at the bottom of the pyramid...
As Nima wishes more and more to be a different version of herself, she fantasizes about being Yasmeen, the other name that her parents considered before she was born. Through a series of supernatural events, Nima finds herself on a journey into the past, which brings her much-needed answers and helps her find some peace in her life as it is rather than as she wishes it could be.
Nima's struggles in this book are real and raw, and she is often so terribly isolated, leading her to make progressively worse decisions. The verse is lovely and lyrical and accentuates the profound feelings that Nima has—sadness, loneliness, self-doubt to name a few of her many complex emotions. The use of Arabic throughout and the visual use of the ampersand to connect her ideas both accentuate the visual aspect of the poetry. I loved the way that her unexpected supernatural journey opens up both the secrets of the past and a deeper understanding of herself and her place in the world.
This is a powerful read that speaks to the struggles of teens in America who feel that they are neither American enough or connected enough to their own family's culture, and I love the way that Elfillo ultimately uplifts and celebrates Nima's uniqueness and her worth.
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