The Weight Of Our Sky
by Hanna Alkaf
Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Published February 2019
I’ve seen this book absolutely raved about online, as an amazing, diverse book with an #ownvoices author, and I knew I wanted to read it, I just kept having other things come up with higher priorities. I finally settled down to read it, and….it’s exactly what everyone has said. Absolutely fantastic.
Melati, our main character, is struggling with OCD, but as this is set in 1969, it’s never diagnosed. She thinks a djinn has taken up residence in her brain, and is giving her horrifying visions unless she does his will. And then riots break out and she and her mother are separated. This book covers an event we were never really taught about here in the US; in 1969 politics in Malaysia reached a boiling point and massive riots broke out between the Chinese and Malaysian populations. It’s an event that rips Melati’s world apart, and that she fights to survive in this book, while still fighting the djinn in her own head.
The Weight Of Our Sky is a young adult book, but it covers some very weighty topics. Between Melati’s mental illness, the death and violence that surrounds her, and the prejudice and bigotry driving it, it’s a book to read mindfully. The author includes a content warning at the beginning of the book, as well she should. The detail with which she describes Melati’s experience (both in her head and outside of it) is stunning.
Melati is Malaysian, but she somehow finds herself with a Chinese family, and together they confront the tensions between the two groups of people, both their own prejudices and the violence from the roving mobs outside the little house they’ve holed up in. All the while, she’s trying to hide the counting and tapping that keeps the djinn quiet in her head. The book is an extraordinary look at untreated mental illness, and the toll it takes to act normal when your brain is lying to you.
From the cover of The Weight Of Our Sky:
Melati Ahmad has imagined her mother’s death countless times. Plagued by gruesome thoughts she believes are put into her head by a djinn, Melati has developed an intricate set of tapping rituals to tame the monster within and keep her mother safe.
But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13, 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 twenty-four-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.
Great review, this sounds like a fantastic and thought provoking read.
I have severe pure-O OCD so I’m interested in this book in terms of it’s mental health representation, but I’m also afraid the historical events it portrays (which I’ve never even heard of) will end up making me really confused. I’m also curious about how the main character could ever achieve any measure of improvement with her OCD by the end since back then there was little or no understanding or treatment of the disorder. Great review! 🙂
It explained the historical events pretty well, or as well as it needed to for the purposes of the story, anyway. I can’t really speak to the rest, but I’d love to hear what you think of it if you read it!
I wasn’t all that actively interested in reading it at first, but now I think there’s probably a pretty good chance I will. There’s just so little representation of OCD out there, especially through fiction. It sounds like the main character has both obsessions and compulsions so I’m curious how the author will handle that. 🙂