Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo is a captivating tale of a girl, Nima, torn between two worlds: the life she has and the life she wishes she could have. The more she wishes herself to become Yasmeen, the name her mother almost gave her, the more Yasmeen becomes real. Next thing you know, Nima finds herself fighting against a possibility.
I’m a huge fan of novels written in verse (shoutout to Elizabeth Acevedo). However, I took a while adjusting to this style. I wasn’t a huge fan of the spacing replacing much of the punctuation. The structure looked almost incomplete on the page, but I think that worked to be a major enhancement of the story.
There are pieces missing, necessary ones, but the gaps still serve a function, and the work is complete.
“do you actually understand how boring it is
waiting to be made possible?”Safia Elhillo, Home is Not a Country
Home is Not a Country itself is a fascinating rendering of magical realism. You follow this girl, Nima, living at the intersection of so many experiences. She is a Muslim American girl. She’s too “ethnic” to fit in with the white kids who bully her in the days soon after 9/11. She’s also too American, not knowing how to dance like her mother, or speak the language.
There is the duality of her wanting to belong in two places in which she does not truly feel accepted in either place.
For me, this book was about home not being a place, but people. But there is also duality of experiencing comfort and love, but also guilt and strife. And this is where the ethereal Yasmeen comes in. Yasmeen is a constant reminder of Nima’s shortcomings and a manifestation of everything she could be.
I’ll be honest, this book started off really slow for me. I did not appreciate the build up in the first half of the book. When Yasmeen appeared, this is when the book got exponentially better for me. And the end! Worth all the slow burn in the beginning. Overall, I really enjoyed the story. For all the negatives I experienced, the positives greatly outweighed them. The theme was great, for both young adult and adultier adult readers.
I definitely recommend, especially as a multigenerational buddy read!