The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
(I was lucky enough to get the ARC from the author (THANK YOU). The book is available for everyone on February 5th!)
This debut novel by Hanna Alkaf was such a beautiful and emotional story of a teenage girl named Melati who suffers from OCD and anxiety. The story takes place in Kuala Lumpur in 1969 when political and racial tensions were high. Things get intense when Melati gets separated from her mother during a 24 hour curfew due to the riots in the city.
Let’s start with the very first page. From the get-go, the author gives a trigger warning. This deals with anxiety, OCD, death, and racism. I haven’t really read a book where that has been detailed from the first page and that was really refreshing! On top of that, I found it incredibly interesting to learn the background of why the author chose to write the novel and why it was based during this time. I’m not very good with history, and learned some new information!
Melati has severe anxiety, but during this time, most mental illnesses are played off as basically being possessed by a djinn (which Muslims like myself believe in). Now I know this takes place in 1969, but as a medical student in Pakistan, I really understood and appreciated the spotlight on mental illnesses! I’ve had patients right now say that they’re sick because of a djinn, so it’s not even a thing of the past!
I did have to put the book down a few times because it really was so heavy and loaded with emotion. I could feel the tension and the anxiety Melati felt as she worried for her mother and feared for herself. The way this is written really did have my heart racing as Melati struggled to count in threes to get rid of the djinn.
Not only was Melati written really well, but I loved Vincent. He’s a Chinese boy that helps Melati (a Malaysian) despite the fact that the riots are based on a feud between the different races. I loved reading the relationship between Vincent and his family, and I especially loved how kind he was with Melati. There were so many scenes between the two of them that brought tears to my eyes!
And it was really great seeing Vincent’s brother and how he struggled to be kind because of the tensions. I really thought it was important to see how different their views could be even if they were raised in the same family. And I thought it added a layer to the political discussion that was made in the book!
And most importantly, I really appreciated the emphasis on family in this book. Melati and her mother’s dynamic was such a beautifully written story. It was ups and downs but all love.
Like, seriously, I CRIED. Also, I read this book so fast it’s INSANE. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of diverse books (who isn’t?), someone who wants to learn something about history, wants Muslim/Malaysian rep, wants to read about dealing with anxiety and death and racism, and wants to learn about the power of love and friendship. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to cry because of a heart wrenching story of a daughter who would do anything to be with her mother. And I would recommend this to anyone who loves the Beatles as much as Melati!