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A music loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.
Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.
A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die.
On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.
About the Author
Hanna Alkaf is the author of The Weight of Our Sky, Queen of the Tiles, The Girl and The Ghost, and Hamra and the Jungle of Memories, as well as coeditor of the young adult anthology The Grimoire of Grave Fates. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has spent most of her life working with words, both in fiction and nonfiction. She lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family.
* "This stunning debut from Malaysian author Alkaf filters Melati’s sympathetic internal narrative through a mental illness barely understood and poorly treated for the era, and the setting and secondary characters convey a visceral, nerve-wracking moment in time. This isn’t an easy story by far; an author’s note warns of “graphic violence, death, racism, OCD, and anxiety triggers”—but their inclusion makes it no less essential, no less unforgettable."
— Publisher's Weekly - starred review
"Melati’s growing strength gives hope to readers: If she can fight her inner demon and save the day, then they can, too."
* "This is a brutally honest, no-holds-barred reimagining of the time: The evocative voice transports readers to 1960s Malaysia, and the brisk pace is enthralling. Above all, the raw emotion splashed across the pages will resonate deeply, no matter one's race or religion. Unabashedly rooted in the author's homeland and confronting timely topics and challenging themes, this book has broad appeal for teen readers."
— Kirkus Reviews - starred review
* "At the sentence level, Alkaf’s use of first-person narration expertly (and, in some cases, painfully) places readers inside Melati’s head as she experiences internal and external horrors....Echoing contemporary race relations, the subject feels especially relevant. VERDICT Alkaf’s immersive, powerful writing make this a must-purchase for all YA collections."
— School Library Journal - starred review
"Alkaf offers a gripping fictionalized account of the 1969 post-election riots in Malaysia, limning acts of bravery and tolerance that unreel alongside the slaughter perpetrated in the Kuala Lumpur streets."
— Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"With her debut young adult novel, The Weight of Our Sky, journalist Hanna Alkaf provides heart-pounding, graphic insight into the seismic life shifts experienced by residents of Kuala Lumpur in the days directly following the May 1969 Malaysian Riots."
— Shelf Awareness *Starred Review*