Emotionally moving, steeped with history, and full of meaning, Hanna Alkaf’s The Weight of Our Sky is set during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Melati Ahmad looks like your typical Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old, but she believes she harbors a djinn inside her–one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death and can only be satisfied by an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping. But when racial tensions between the Chinese and Malays in Kuala Lumpur boil over and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames, Melati must 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.
🌸 Whoever feels comfortable with the content warnings should read this! It was a wonderful read and something I think a lot of people will relate to.
I was so awed by this book.
So many things work in it. From Alkaf’s exploration of the racial tensions of the time to Melati’s struggles to reach her mother while needing to satisfy the djinn inside her and her anxieties to the nearly tangible tension of this story.
It’s definitely a doozy–in only a short period of time, Melati goes through so much and this book is a serious gut-punch (so be prepared and pack some tissues). But all of the emotions it made me feel were so worth it, and I am totally in love with Alkaf’s writing and Melati.
Melati was just so strong–even though she might not seem like it on first glance. The race riots and being separated from her mother is extremely stressful, especially with her anxiety and OCD, and it was A Lot for any teen to go through. I think Alkaf handled this extremely well, both showing how Melati felt like she couldn’t get through this and how she felt like she couldn’t reach her mother, all while she still persisted.
That inner strength was so nice to read about, and Melati is a wonder for getting through everything that was happening. Her entire growth and discovery of inner strength was really powerful, and I loved that about this book.
Plus, Alkaf’s showing of the historic race riots of 1969 in Malaysia was so well done, and the way she showed the history revealed the racial tensions between the Chinese and the Malay, and how both “sides” had their flaws. There was a certain scene at the end that read really powerfully for me, and this is defintiely another highlight of the book.
I found The Weight of Our Sky wholly relatable on a lot of different levels. There haven’t been many books with Southeast Asian protagonists by Southeast Asian authors, but The Weight of Our Sky hit really close to home for me. Although this wasn’t a perfect match for rep with me (I’m Indonesian, not Malaysian), some of the elements–like when the students said terima kasih to their teacher–I recognized from my mother’s own stories about Indonesia. And the race riots, although somewhat different, that she lived through when she was a college student.
I laughed (the puns!), I cried, and I raged while reading this book, and Alkaf really pushed the readers to experience the rollercoaster that is this novel, which I loved.
The whole story was paced well, so some moments where it needed to slow down and take a breath, it did, and other moments where the story sped up and kept you furiously flipping the pages, it also satisfied the need. And the ending absolutely tore me apart, but seeing Melati come out of it stronger, which made it all worth it.
If you’re looking for a book that really hits you in the feels, definitely check out The Weight of Our Sky! I promise, you won’t regret it. I certainly didn’t.
I look forward for the next book Alkaf brings us, because this was a spectacular debut and one that I will definitely find myself rereading time and time again.
Thank you so much to Hanna Alkaf for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!