Despite having a teenage protagonist, The Weight of Our Sky deals with harrowing issues. Things no child — nor adult — should ever have to go through.
Malaysian Hanna Alkaf doesn’t soften the horrors of the 1969 KL race riots, the setting for her debut YA (young adult) novel. This she candidly acknowledges in her author’s note, advising readers to put down the book at anytime should it be necessary. I had to heed her advice more than once, as The Weight of Our Sky hit close to home.
As a Malaysian, no matter which era you were born in, you will relate to 16-year-old Melati Ahmad. You’ll recognise the cultural connotations in how, without being able to name her crippling anxiety and OCD, Melati has come to believe that a djinn resides within her.
Fearing for her mother’s safety, she duly appeases it through a series of compulsive behaviours. When the deadly riots separate her from all that she knows, a Chinese family puts a roof over her head. To have any hope of finding her mother, she must confront her demons and keep her composure.
View this post on Instagram
While Melati fears being labelled as insane and shunned — Hanna’s writing deftly juxtaposes her mental illness with the madness of bigotry. If you can stomach the triggers — racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD, and anxiety — The Weight of Our Sky is a must-read.
Yes, it’s a story of destruction and a city set ablaze by hatred. A caution and reminder, lest history repeats itself. But, it’s also about finding kindness in unexpected places, hope, and ultimately, redemption.
And, if you need more heart, there’s the tantalising inkling of a slow-burn romance. I’m rooting for the Vince x Mel ship to sail! Now, excuse me while I go look up Melati’s favourite Beatles songs on YouTube.
Check out the March 2019 issue of Her World for an interview with Hanna Alkaf.