Review: The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf || Finally! The First 5-Star of the Year

Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung. Have you heard this before? It means where we plant our feet is where we must hold up the sky. We live and die by the rules of the land we live in. But this country belongs to all of us! We make our own sky, and we can hold it up—together.

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Publication date: February 5, 2019

Publisher: Salaam Reads

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Synopsis: 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 moviegoing, 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.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames. 

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

Content Warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers

Before I start this review, I must thank Kate @ Your Tita Kate for deciding to buy copies of The Weight of Our Sky to send to readers in the Philippines while she was in Kuala Lumpur. Since I’m a student, she also shouldered the shipping cost, so that’s an additional thank you to her. And if I hadn’t seen her tweet and decided on a whim to tell her that I wanted a copy, I would never have picked up The Weight of Our Sky. Basically, I just have a lot to thank her for. So if you somehow are following me but aren’t following her yet, then you should go do that right now because her blog posts are all so damn eloquent, and her personality is amazing!

I appreciate this book so much because it features a non-white, non-Christian (Malaysian and Muslim) character in a non-western setting dealing with a mental illness. I cannot stress how important books likes this are. We already have a shortage of books with mental illness rep, what more books with intersectional mental illness rep.

You would expect that being in Mel’s head would get repetitive because of her constant need to tap and count, but each time, Alkaf found new ways to show how Mel’s mental illness creeps into her everyday life. Besides that, she does such a good job of transporting us to 1969 Kuala Lumpur, expertly writing the tension between the Chinese and the Malays, while also portraying the sense of community that somehow still prevailed at the time. All of this world building is incorporated seamlessly, and not once was this book difficult to fly through. Coupled with the fact that this book is less than 300 pages, The Weight of Our Sky is very easy to binge-read.

Though I want more people to read this, it does get very dark at times, and you should definitely make sure to read the trigger warnings before you pick it up. Right from the beginning, someone close to Mel is taken from her, and the survival story just continues from there. Mel meets new people and journeys to different places, some safe and some not, trying to find her ever illusive mother.

Speaking of mothers, my own recently finished this book, and I think she was right in calling Mel kawawa, or heartbreaking. It is impossible not to feel for Mel, because she believes that her mental illness is the work of a vengeful djinn who torments her with visions of her mother’s death. And then the unthinkable happens–her mother’s life is actually in danger. But at the same time, Mel is not a human form of her mental illness. She is just a normal teenage girl with a love for the Beatles, and she would do anything for her mother.

Vincent is the sweetest boy ever, and I loved that the author didn’t try to squeeze in a forced romance between him and Melati. Auntie Bee and Uncle Chong are also wonderful people who are perfect examples that an ethnicity, or even just any group of people, aren’t a monolith. They reminded me of Chinese aunties and uncles that I’ve met myself. And Frankie is, well.. a piece of work, but even though his views about Malays are completely wrong and challenged by the narrative, his reasons for it are understandable, and I appreciated how the author chose to end his character arc.

In Alkaf’s author’s note, she mentions how much research went into writing this book, uncovering what it was like during the race riots and how mental health was treated during this time. I think the former really shows because everything that happened in this book seems like it would’ve happened in real life. And for the latter, I appreciate Alkaf so much for writing a book about a PoC struggling with mental illness during a time when mental health awareness was scarce. Even though it’s heartbreaking, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that Melati would call her mental illness a djinn and believe that counting was a form of weaving a protective shield around her loved ones.

This book reminds me of some of the required reading I had to read in school, but not in a bad way at all. My past assigned reading (especially the books O.C.W.: A Young Boy’s Search For His Mother and Chu Ju’s House), are books steeped in Asian culture, with characters driven by their love for family to go on a journey, where they meet different people and different obstacles. If this book weren’t potentially triggering, it would be the perfect required reading.

Earlier, I mentioned that this book wasn’t on my TBR until Tita Kate tweeted about it. That wasn’t because I had seen negative reviews. It was the opposite–all of the reviews I’d seen were four stars or above. But this book still slipped under my radar because not enough people were talking about it. Even now, this book is severely underhyped. So I hope this review encouraged you to read The Weight of Our Sky, because it is an excellent debut and I am so excited to read more from this author!

The Verdict: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Is this amazing book on your TBR? Or have you read it already? What’d you think about it?

29 thoughts on “Review: The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf || Finally! The First 5-Star of the Year

  1. I love how mental illness is starting go get incorporated into more than just typical contemporary novels! It’s so important to see the interplay of mental illness with different times, settings, and cultures! This sounds like an amazing book, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ahh I see that now- sorry! Its not on you, I’m tired and had a hectic day. It still sounds super interesting. Historical fiction was always my first love.

        Well I guess after horror that is. Lol. Still- awesome review. The world needs more books like this.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful review – my heart was so warmed that a fellow blogger did that for you. That is just lovely! I made sure to follow her – she sounds amazing!

    I haven’t read this one but it’s literally sitting on my wee little TBR shelf beside my bed currently, so it’s right up there on priority. This review makes me want to bump it even higher up! I am so excited to read this one and I follow the author on Twitter and she seems so awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melanie!! this comment 😭😭 fellow bloggers are amazing!

      I’m so happy that my review made you want to read it even more. I really think that it hasn’t been getting as much buzz as it should be. I know right? Hanna Alkaf is such a delight on there.

      Like

  3. You’re so right about this book being severely underhyped – I think I have really only seen this book once. I didn’t know much about what it was about, but your review and the summary are so intriguing. I’m definitely going to have to look at the trigger warnings a bit more, but this book just sounds so intriguing. You’re for sure put it on my radar, and I think I might try to pick it up. Wonderful review! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, it’s a sad fact because this book is genuinely so well written and important 😦 But I’m so excited that my review helped you learn more about it and spotlighted the book a little! But yes, this book does get pretty dark at times, and the author says it herself in her author’s note. She even says that if you don’t think you can stomach what is mentioned in the cw’s then it’s probably best not to pick her book up! Thank you so much, Mandy! 💜

      Liked by 2 people

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