- Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo
Library ed. ISBN 9780593177068 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 9780593177051 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780593177075 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys Ad Gr. 8–10
In this free-verse novel, fourteen-year-old Nima feels like an outsider in her own life: she’s on the awkward periphery at school, sometimes taunted for her Muslim faith (the book is seemingly set not long after 9/11), but at home she can barely stumble through her mother’s native Arabic, and she has little sense of her father, who died before Nima was born, or her parents’ country, since her mother immigrated while pregnant. She feels like there’s another, more accomplished and self-assured version of her, named Yasmeen (the name she was originally intended to be named), and she’s alarmed yet intrigued when Yasmeen begins to appear to her. Then, after Yasmeen saves her from a dangerous situation, she takes Nima through a portal to another time and place—her parents’ country (never named but mapping onto the author’s Sudanese origins) before her mother’s immigration and her father’s death, allowing Nima to see that her parents weren’t the great lost romance she imagined. Poet Elhillo makes her lower-case verse a stream of pained consciousness in Nima’s poignant voice, and the combination of teenaged longing for a more confident self and sensation of exile from a past (“a country i’ve never [End Page 294] seen/outside a photograph”) she never knew is potent. The Yasmeen device is unusual but it loses logical legibility as it progresses to a point where only one will survive, and the retroactive positive changes to Nima’s life please but don’t really parse. Nonetheless, it’s still an evocative exploration of the way kids can be haunted by a history they didn’t live through and a place they’ve never been.