Amina lives in a fictional country where the government has a stranglehold on the population: women cannot work, girls can no longer go to school or laugh in the street and they must wear head scarves in different colours to depict their age. When Amina sees foreign troops near her village she is hopeful that things will change but, before they get better, they must first get much worse. Her parents believe that the best policy is to keep their heads down but when the government requires the people to wear badges on their clothes identifying their racial/cultural roots, Amina’s brother wants to fight. His decision tears the family apart and Amina finds herself struggling to survive.
Although the story is set in a fictional country, there is much that is recognisable from our world today. The story shows how small, seemingly insignificant, acts can develop until people lose their freedom of expression, their livelihood, their friends and their neighbors. Violence becomes arbitrary and brutal, and people are left to fend for themselves in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps. Amina is a survivor but she survives at a cost and the book is very careful not to provide a saccharine ending, but one that leaves a sense of sadness, tempered by hope, with the reader. This is a straightforward and fascinating read. The book gives the reader much to think about but it also makes the reader care – I didn’t want to put the book down until I knew what Amina’s fate was and I carried on thinking of her long after I turned the last page.