Anderson, Natalie. Let’s Go Swimming on Doomsday. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019. 454p. ISBN:9780399547614. $18.99.
In this high drama, first-person narrative Abdi is a young person coming of age in Somalia. He becomes a secret agent of the US in the Al Shabaab where his job is to find out what is happening within the jihadi group. But to do that he gets pulled into secret missions where he is expected to kill. The reason he agrees to the mission within a mission? Because after his brother became part of the group, the US military held his family hostage and now they are saying that he is the only one who can get them released.
Everything is awful in this story. It is awful for the boys in Al Shabaab, for the people on the streets of Mogadishu where they rule, for the families and individuals captured on either side of the war between Al Shabaab and the US/AMISOM mission, and for the refugees who somehow make it out of Somalia. It is told in chapters that alternate their timelines – before the titular “doomsday” and after – by the same smart, kind, conflicted main character Abdi. On the one side of doomsday readers get a close-up view of the war as it plays out through the pawns used by the US and Al Shabaab. It is a high intensity thriller type of story with suicide vests and double agents and government secrets and bags full of money. On the other side of the timeline we see what it is like for a refugee trying to put his life together again. That second world is peopled primarily by women and it adds a new depth to the story.
This is a compelling story and readers will want to stay with this book as much to know what happens as to get to know Abdi better. That said, it is concerning that it is written by a person who admits candidly in their author’s note that they have no personal experience of Islam or jihad and have never been Mogadishu or Somalia or Kenya where the story is set. The author does acknowledge their deficiencies in this regard and clearly defines what is based on research and what is imagined. Nevertheless, reading this title ought to be supplemented by first-hand accounts and own voices presentations of events to provide full context. Dark and intense with graphic depictions of realistic violence, this title is not recommended for timid readers.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library, Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch