In her YA poetry debut, Home Is Not a Country, Safia Elhillo (author of the adult poetry collection The January Children) writes about a teen detached from the country she was born in and isolated in the country in which she lives.
Fourteen-year-old Nima is an immigrant living in the U.S. with her working-class mother. The teen doesn't feel connected to her birth country, nor to the small suburban city where she resides. She struggles to belong, lacking a sense of self and targeted as a Muslim in a post-9/11 United States. As Nima tries to figure out who she is, she is haunted by the death of her father and by her name (which means "grace," an attribute she lacks)--a name she believes is not the one her mother had planned to give her. When her only friend, Haitham, is the victim of a brutal hate crime, Nima decides it is all the more important that she find her true self: "so busy looking/ at my one empty hand," she thinks, "i almost missed everything/ filling the other."
Elhillo uses magical realism to help Nima discover herself and learn the connection to her name. Home Is Not a Country is broken up into four beautifully written and composed sections, sometimes in Nima's voice, sometimes in Haitham's. Elhillio eschews capital letters, creating a feeling of immediacy that evokes Nima's deep pain and desire to understand. Elhillo's tender and descriptive writing focuses on family and identity and may leave readers feeling the need to live life to the fullest--to enjoy everything and everyone because one never knows what can be snatched away. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer