Internment by Samira Ahmed is a daring novel for your classroom–one that addresses hate, Nationalism, and blind loyalty. Your students will immediately make real-world connections. The dystopian element makes those connections easier to discuss in a classroom setting.
The story takes place “fifteen seconds” in the future. Immigration policies and anti-Islam fear mongering have escalated. Muslims are under a curfew; their books are being burned; Layla fears that it could get worse.
But all she wants to do is live her life. She misses being able to spend time with her boyfriend David without punishment or stigma. Hell, she even misses attending school. Meanwhile, the president continues to drone on about the dangers of the Islam threat.
It seems like it can’t get any worse until one night men come for Layla and her parents. After only a few minutes to pack, Layla, her mother, and her father are whisked off in the middle of the night to Camp Mobius–an internment camp for Muslims.
How long will they have to stay? What is going on outside of the camp? Will Layla ever see David again?
This Lit Literature Review aims to give high school English teachers the “need to know” for deciding whether or not Internment is right for their classroom and to help get it in the hands of the ideal reader.
Keep reading to find out more, or, if you just want the “quick facts,” jump to the end.
What Drew Me To Internment?
I read Ahmed’s Love, Hate, & Other Filters last year when it came out and loved it! So, when this book and its premise was announced, I preordered it and (im)patiently waited for its arrival. It did not disappoint.
I have a lot of students who are the children of immigrants. While they may not be Muslim, I felt it was important to have literature on my shelves that acknowledged the increasing fear in America of “the other.”
What Makes Internment “Lit”?
Internment by Samira Ahmed is jam-packed–as a story, as a teaching tool, and even as a literary study. It has everything an English teacher could hope for: an exciting plot, a lesson on empathy and understanding, and lots of poetic allusions.
Throughout the novel, the reader carries tension. How will Layla and David be reunited? What is going on outside the camp? Who can Layla trust on the inside? Readers will have a hard time not turning the page.
Even better, though, is Ahmed’s lesson. For those of us who grew up with little exposure to Islam, Ahmed’s storytelling does a wonderful job of introducing cultural differences while making them approachable.
For example, Layla’s family turn to prayer for comfort. They celebrate religious holidays. They eat cultural food. But they also watch TV, go to school and work, and love their country. They are American and Muslim and Ahmed shows this beautifully.
Layla’s father is a poet–a fact which makes him a target in the eyes of the U. S. government–so Layla is raised with a healthy appreciation of poetry. There are lots of references to poems, books, and stories. For this alone, I would put it on my classroom shelf.
Who’s the Ideal Reader for Internment?
The ideal reader would be those students who I think have been most impacted by immigration restrictions or religious intolerance. Many of us have students in our classroom who have illegal parents, illegal themselves, or practice religions that are unfamiliar to our students.
For them, this novel will hit especially close to home and may allow them to feel seen.
However, I think there is much to be gained by exposing white and American-born students to this novel. Layla is a Muslim, but she is also an American teenager. She just wants to go to school and hang out with her boyfriend.
For students who haven’t been exposed to many diverse cultures, this novel is a wonderful experience. It is easily accessible for students who don’t have much prior knowledge about Islam. I love the breadth of Islamic culture that Ahmed shows in her writing.
While Layla’s family is from India, other characters hail from Afghanistan. Layla chooses not to wear the hijab, but others do.
The characters accept and acknowledge their differences in a way that makes it easy for the reader to do so also while learning about the many different ways there are to “be Muslim.”
The power in this novel is its ability to be both a mirror and window. Layla is relatable to nearly everyone, though her cultural background may be different from our students’.
However, I’ll admit that Trump supporters, children of Republican parents, or narrow-minded students (there’s always a few), may have a hard time connecting to this novel. While Ahmed never calls Trump out by name, her descriptions at times can only describe one man.
Consequently, some students may feel that this novel attacks their viewpoints or their family’s political beliefs. While I think this novel would make an excellent whole class read (let me suggest starting with my Internment activity!), you may want to proceed with caution.
When teaching this novel, you’ll have to be politically delicate. I, for one, am a huge fan of taking risks in the classroom and having those courageous conversations. But I encourage you to feel out your school or class’s culture before forcing students to engage with this novel.
I do think, however, that it has mass appeal and would be an excellent literature circle or book club choice.
Internment: The Classroom Facts
Author: Samira Ahmed
Lexile: Not lists on lexile.com yet
Genre: Dystopian, realistic fiction
Setting: Camp Mobius, an internment camp near the Japanese internment camp Manzanar. The Amin family is forced to live in a trailer, subsist off of rations, and penned inside of the interment camp by electric fencing and barbed wire.
Main Character: Layla Amin, Muslim teenager and daughter of a professor and chiropractor.
Page Numbers: 400
Looking for other titles to add to your classroom library? Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is another must-read diverse title. For those students who love Internment for its relationship tension, Dreamland by Sarah Dessen may be another good recommendation.
Want to teach Internment as a whole class novel? Start with this FREE lesson!
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