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. A novel in verse for ages 12 and up.
... a love letter to anyone who has ever been an outsider, or searched to understand their history, no matter where they come from ... Her story captures a familiar wistfulness for the places we come from but have never truly known. It's a tapestry of life in small moments, and the revelations we have about our pasts over time ... Elhillo wrote Home is Not a Country as a novel in verse, with poems that let you sink your toes into being 14, feeling invisible, and desperately wishing for another life ... It took me some time to get into the narrative, which slowly introduces the characters through vignettes from Nima's life. It felt like a poetry chapbook, collecting moments that seemed to be stuck in time, so I carefully savored every detail and observation. But then the story quickly changed tone, leaving me delighted by the adventure that unfolded and making me rush through the pages ... From the beginning, Elhillo introduces elements of magical realism that quickly take over the story, pulling the reader into a completely different world. They took me by surprise, as they revealed what would happen if Nima's dreams did come true. It helped me reflect on how, when we are young, we feel so certain that one decision or twist of fate would solve all our problems. But in reality, what we desire usually doesn't turn up in the way we expected it. Home is Not a Country felt most memorable because of how it explored this tension between our fascination with the what-ifs, and how they distract us from enjoying where we are right now ... More than anything, the book exquisitely captures how the questions about where we come from can take over our life. It's a portrait of perspective, which holds up a mirror to show that ultimately, we are telling our own stories, and we can choose to see them differently. With my eyes heavy from reading late into the night, I finished Home is Not a Country with the feeling of walking out of a movie theater into the sunshine, where the world feels brighter and inexplicably more hopeful than when you last left it.
Elhillo weaves elegantly disruptive lyrics into the novel against the backdrop of 9/11—when our beloved main characters’ lives are torn into by malicious, angry strangers. Elhillo’s verse slowly unravels the trauma that led Nima’s mother to the US ... Elhillo does an excellent job exploring the mother’s trauma and other side characters without erasing Nima’s character arc ... Elhillo’s story is cohesive and the narrative is easy to follow, even if some poems diverge from the main plotline ... The largest marks against this book are some of its fussy formatting and strange stylistic choices. Even after reading the book several times, I couldn’t understand what purpose the formatting served. I eventually grew accustomed to it, but picking the book up after some time away made it difficult to immerse myself in the plot again. Frequent use of ampersands was distracting (even if clever) for the first few poems it was featured in, as well as the spacing of some poems. However, those small, distracting details pale in comparison to the vast swath of emotions that Elhillo manages to capture ... a beautifully written tale that tackles questions of home and urges caution when it comes to romanticizing lives we could have lived, and the what ifs that can haunt generations.
... sophisticated ... will entrance readers with its deft use of language and blurred divide between reality and possibility ... 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.