Title: Home Is Not a Country
Author: Safia Elhillo
Genre: YA Books in Verse
Number of Pages: 224
This book started out as a familiar chronicle of an immigrant caught between two worlds, but it ends up being saved by it’s speculative fiction angle. Nima is a teen of Saudi Arabian descent who becomes the victim of racist harassment following 9/11, and her best friend is beaten by a group of angry white men. She finds herself wishing she could have been a different person and her whole life had gone differently, imagining a world where her mother never came to the U.S. and her father wasn’t killed before she was born.
Nima starts to become less and less present in her own life and flickers in and out of existence, and then she travels back to Saudi Arabia before she was born and witnesses a different timeline. She’s accompanied by Yasmeen, a spirit who wants the experience the human experience for herself and trying to take Nima’s life from her. While struggling with Yasmeen’s influence, Nima also begins to realize that there was more to her mom and her dad’s relationship than meets the eye. Unsurprisingly, nothing is as idyllic as it first appears.
I liked the verse in this book and how the set-up was a little bit unusual, and I really enjoyed the whole idea of a spirit who wants to take over a life of someone who doesn’t appreciate what they’ve been given. Yasmeen isn’t an antagonist and Nima actually feels a lot of empathy for her, suffering from her own overwhelming amount of displacement. Most YA books rely very heavily on romance, but Nima’s relationship with her male friend Haitham is mostly platonic and that was a breath of fresh air.
I’m gray asexual and a lot of YA authors don’t seem to understand that not everything has to be about sexual attraction. I also wish there were more platonic relationships between straight opposite-sex teenagers (as opposed to the ever-present GBF stereotype) in young adult books. I definitely felt like Nima had feelings for Haitham but romance was never the focus.
I’d never read anything by this author before, but she does an outstanding job of mixing serious social issues with magical realism without one diluting the other. ‘Multiverse’ type concepts always fascinate me and I appreciated how she took something basic (be careful for what you wish for) and put a unique spin on it.