Set “15 minutes” into the future, this must-read novel for young adults merges events that have already taken place in America — the separation of refugee families, the vilification of migrants, the rise of Islamophobia — with what they might lead to: the incarceration by the current regime of all Muslim Americans in detention camps as a “national security measure”. We follow the story of 17-year-old Layla, of Indian descent, who is transported with her parents to a camp at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, near where Japanese Americans were interned after Pearl Harbor. She leaves behind her ordinary teenage life and her Jewish boyfriend, but finds the will, and the allies, to resist oppression. This is a heart-rending and all-too-credible tale of sacrifice, the ugly face of authority and the courage of youth.
If this is dystopian fiction, the scenario it describes is only a few steps away from the present. “Saying I hate the president . . . used to be free speech,” Layla fumes, “but qualifies as treason now . . . And some people still think this is a democracy.” Ahmed shows the heterogeneity of the jailed co-religionists, who hail from many different cultures and backgrounds. Layla, her new friends Ayesha and Soheil and a sympathetic guard use every social media technique at their disposal to fight back. It’s chillingly plausible.