Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo (9780593177051)
Nima has always wished that she was different somehow. Part of it is the loss of her father before she was born. Part of it is that she doesn’t feel like she fits into her suburban home in America. Part of it is that she isn’t connected enough to her Sudanese heritage. Haitham, a boy who lives nearby, is her only friend and when he is injured after they argue, Nima finds herself adrift and spending days without talking to anyone. She dreams about a fantasy life where her father wasn’t killed, she has a large extended family, and her mother is not overworked and exhausted. Soon those dreams lead to her taking risks, inviting a hungry spirit into her life, one who looks a lot like her and can show her the life of her dreams. But what is the cost of these dreams?
Told in exceptional poetry, this verse novel for teens is a deep look at racism, Islamophobia, and being part of a large diaspora. Elhillo’s poetry is some of the best I have read in a YA verse novel. She captures the dark emotions of loneliness, hate crimes, and lack of self-esteem with such clarity and empathy. Her poetry shows the importance of family, whether it is imagined or real. It shows the dangers of wanting to escape your life and of the potential of losing it all along the way.
Nima is the sort of protagonist that readers will want to shake and comfort. She is incredibly lonely, spending her evenings isolated and her days silent. Her relationship with her mother is complex and well drawn, creating both tension and connection in turns. Readers will see themselves in Nima, in dreaming of alternate lives and outcomes. They will get a close look at the experience of an immigrant family that keeps secrets in order to survive.
Incredible writing combines with a gorgeous story of loneliness and risk. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.