Home is not a country

Safia Elhillo

Book - 2021

"Nima doesn't feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn't. As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents... didn't give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else's...she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had."--

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Subjects
Genres
Novels in verse
Published
New York : Make Me A World [2021]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
215 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9780593177051
0593177053
9780593177068
0593177061
Main Author
Safia Elhillo (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Exploring themes of finding oneself and finding home after immigration, Elhillo's sophisticated debut, Home Is Not a Country, will entrance readers with its deft use of language and blurred divide between reality and possibility. Nearly 15, Nima can't understand what made her mother leave her beautiful homeland to raise her then-unborn child in the U.S. Photos sparkling with laughter and songs crooned in Arabic fill Nima's apartment and capture the teen's imagination as she contemplates how much happier her mother would be in another country or with a different daughter, Yasmeen. This imagined daughter of love and beauty, named for her mother's favorite flower, becomes a fixation in Nima's mind, sister and alterego perfectly bound as the person Nima should have been. These sullen musings become unexpectedly real after Nima's best and only friend, Haitham, is attacked—presumably for his race—in a parking lot and hospitalized. A fight with her mother on the way to visit him sends Nima running off, surprisingly stepping into her mother's past with Yasmeen as her guide. There, Nima observes what really drove her mother from her home, as the girl finds bittersweet answers to many of her questions and receives harsh truths from the mouth of Yasmeen. These revelations act as a much-needed awakening for Nima, who is able to make slight changes to the past that lead to a happier present, though none more than the metamorphosis she herself undergoes in this surreal crash-course in perspective, agency, and self-love. Grades 8-12. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Exploring themes of finding oneself and finding home after immigration, Elhillo's sophisticated debut, Home Is Not a Country, will entrance readers with its deft use of language and blurred divide between reality and possibility. Nearly 15, Nima can't understand what made her mother leave her beautiful homeland to raise her then-unborn child in the U.S. Photos sparkling with laughter and songs crooned in Arabic fill Nima's apartment and capture the teen's imagination as she contemplates how much happier her mother would be in another country or with a different daughter, Yasmeen. This imagined daughter of love and beauty, named for her mother's favorite flower, becomes a fixation in Nima's mind, sister and alterego perfectly bound as the person Nima should have been. These sullen musings become unexpectedly real after Nima's best and only friend, Haitham, is attacked—presumably for his race—in a parking lot and hospitalized. A fight with her mother on the way to visit him sends Nima running off, surprisingly stepping into her mother's past with Yasmeen as her guide. There, Nima observes what really drove her mother from her home, as the girl finds bittersweet answers to many of her questions and receives harsh truths from the mouth of Yasmeen. These revelations act as a much-needed awakening for Nima, who is able to make slight changes to the past that lead to a happier present, though none more than the metamorphosis she herself undergoes in this surreal crash-course in perspective, agency, and self-love. Grades 8-12. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Nostalgia for the unknown controls the rhythm of this resonant novel in verse. Muslim, implied Sudanese American Nima, 14, feels invisible and unmoored, wishing she were "a girl mouth open & fluent who knows where she is from." Pining for the love of her late father, and facing constant abuse at school because of her accent and identity ("a boy at school/ called me a terrorist"), Nima lives alone with her hijabi mother; her only friend is an energetic boy in her building named Haitham, who feels like a sibling. As rising Islamophobia in their suburban American community increases both the bullying at school and her and her mother's fear, Nima longs for the life she believes she would have had if she had been named Yasmeen as planned. With her desire to become Yasmeen growing, Nima begins seeing glimpses of her other self while beginning to disappear. After a string of incidents leaves her feeling completely alone, Nima meets Yasmeen, launching both into their parents' past and homeland to decide which of them will be born. Artfully profound and achingly beautiful, Elhillo's verse aptly explores diasporic yearning for one's home and a universal fascination with possibilities. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Mar.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Nostalgia for the unknown controls the rhythm of this resonant novel in verse. Muslim, implied Sudanese American Nima, 14, feels invisible and unmoored, wishing she were "a girl mouth open & fluent who knows where she is from." Pining for the love of her late father, and facing constant abuse at school because of her accent and identity ("a boy at school/ called me a terrorist"), Nima lives alone with her hijabi mother; her only friend is an energetic boy in her building named Haitham, who feels like a sibling. As rising Islamophobia in their suburban American community increases both the bullying at school and her and her mother's fear, Nima longs for the life she believes she would have had if she had been named Yasmeen as planned. With her desire to become Yasmeen growing, Nima begins seeing glimpses of her other self while beginning to disappear. After a string of incidents leaves her feeling completely alone, Nima meets Yasmeen, launching both into their parents' past and homeland to decide which of them will be born. Artfully profound and achingly beautiful, Elhillo's verse aptly explores diasporic yearning for one's home and a universal fascination with possibilities. Ages 12–up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Mar.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 6 Up—Sudanese American poet Elhillo invites readers into her dreamlike story of 15-year-old Nima, who struggles with loneliness and the possibilities of the road not taken. Growing up in the United States, Nima wonders what life would be like if she spoke Arabic fluently, if her father hadn't died, if her mother had not left a country where everyone had dark eyes, sepia-toned skin, and textured hair like her, or if she had been given a name she felt she could live up to. In this novel in verse, Elhillo shows readers the beauty of what could have been, and the pain of being labeled a terrorist. When Nima's best friend, Haitham, is attacked, a series of dangerous events unfold, yet readers are given no real resolution. Told in three parts, the flow is a bit disjointed, but overall this is a quick and engaging story. Fans of Elizabeth Acevedo's Clap When You Land or Samira Ahmed's Love, Hate & Other Filters will enjoy this look at identity and acceptance. VERDICT A unique verse novel that looks at how our past choices influence identity and sense of belonging.—Monisha Blair, Rutgers Univ., NJ Copyright 2020 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A novel in verse follows the experiences of a misfit teen in a discriminatory suburban community who questions her mixed heritage before unexpected family revelations force her to fight for her own identity. By the award-winning author of The January Children. Simultaneous eBook.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A novel in verse follows the experiences of a misfit teen in a discriminatory suburban community who questions her mixed heritage before unexpected family revelations force her to fight for her own identity.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD “Nothing short of magic.” —Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X From the  acclaimed poet featured on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list, this powerful novel-in-verse captures one girl, caught between cultures, on an unexpected journey to face the ephemeral girl she might have been. Woven through with moments of lyrical beauty, this is a tender meditation on family, belonging, and home. my mother meant to name me     for her favorite flowerits sweetness     garlands made     for pretty girlsi imagine her    yasmeen     bright & alive& i ache to have been born her     insteadNima wishes she were someone else. She doesn’t feel understood by her mother, who grew up in a different land. She doesn’t feel accepted in her suburban town; yet somehow, she isn't different enough to belong elsewhere. Her best friend, Haitham, is the only person with whom she can truly be herself. Until she can't, and suddenly her only refuge is gone. As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen—the name her parents meant to give her at birth—Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might be more real than Nima knows.  And the life Nima wishes were someone else's. . . is one she will need to fight for with a fierceness she never knew she possessed.