Review of Home Is Not a Country

Home Is Not a Country
by Safia Elhillo
Middle School, High School    Make Me a World/Random    224 pp.    g
3/21    978-0-593-17705-1    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-17706-8    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-17707-5    $10.99

Elhillo’s strikingly original novel in searingly honest, staccato verse, nearly all in lowercase, showcases the difficult realities of working-class immigrant families. Nima is a sensitive Muslim teenager, daughter of an immigrant mother, whose life is marked by the absence of a father she never knew, of friends (except one), and of belonging and feeling at home. Haunted by “sepia”-tinted memories “of a country i’ve never seen / outside a photograph,” bullied at school, and excluded by her Arabic-speaking peers, she grapples with a series of what-ifs. A “nostalgia monster” hungry for old photographs and retro Arabic music and films, Nima yearns for a different life, one lived in her imagination as her “ghost self,” Yasmeen. When her only friend is hospitalized after a hate crime, she goes into a tailspin. In a magical realism sequence, she encounters corporeal Yasmeen and travels through space and time to see her parents together, uncovering truths that help recalibrate her life. While Elhillo’s novel draws on her Sudanese heritage, she leaves the family’s country of origin unnamed. Her richly imagined settings bring into sharp focus the nuances of a fractured identity in many diasporic communities. An immersive experience of the intersectionality of gender, class, race, religion, and identity.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Sadaf Siddique is co-author of Muslims in Story: Expanding Multicultural Understanding through Children’s and Young Adult Literature and co-founder of Kitaabworld. She writes about Muslim kid lit and South Asian kid lit at Lantern Reads.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.