The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf, #15 review

Publication date : 5 February 2019

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.**

This review took me a long time to write mostly because I needed time to process my thoughts and feelings about this book. I have so much to say so I will try to pen it down with as little spoilers as possible.

Firstly, I would like to thank Hanna for having the courage to write about a topic this sensitive. 13 May is something that Malaysia will forever remember in our hearts. This book made me laugh out loud, it made me cry, it made me squeal and punch my pillow to release my anger for Hanna BECAUSE HOW COULD YOU?!! You caused me, PAIN!

“Do not ever let anyone tell you that you do not belong here,” she had said, looking at us intently. “We all do. There is space for us all.”

The Weight of Our Sky puts us through the eyes of Melati during the riots. Her writing allows us to see the brutality and candid truth of raw suffering. Her words made pictures appear in my mind, they made me just cringe at all the affliction. I recommend this book to everyone to read! In fact, I’m sending a copy of it to my friend in Sri Lanka, she requested to read it after I talked passionately about it.

I love stories that tell multiple stories in a book, I love that in each story we learn many lessons from a different perspective. Hanna did that! Hanna also wrote this book in a truly Malaysian way, I’m not just talking about the culture of different races or the atmosphere like the mood and settings of the different locations (aka, HOT Malaysian weather!) . Nopee, she went all out! Right down to the swear words in Malaysian slang. Gotta love this bold language in my mother tongue. This book is, quote Hanna.

“Unapologetically Malaysian”

Hanna Alkaf

It is a book that represents my home – Malaysia with all the beauty and flaws and the simple things in a daily life of being a Malaysian. I really hope that this book will make it to the komsas for schools so kids will read it.

SOME Spoilery (But no really?) character development below.

Melati – Even though she has OCD and deals with Anxiety, I have to admire her courage for having the guts to do everything she did from page one to the last page in the book. One of the most important thing she did was that she admitted to herself that she was not okay, that she was not in a good place mentally and she accepted that. She didn’t lie to herself about her condition and that is significant in the process of starting to heal. Everyone who is fighting their own mental illness needs to know this. Never lie to yourself, you can lie to others but please do not lie to yourself. She’s a total Hufflepuff btw.

Vincent – #Gryffindor . This guy, oooooooh. This guy had me screaming to all the guys around me : WHY AREN’T YOU HALF AS DECENT AS THIS GUY?! He does not run away from Melati, no he did not! In fact, he helped her through all the nitty gritty stuff. My favorite thing about him is that he acknowledges that Melati has mental illness and he did not leave her alone. He stuck by her side even more! Like Super Glue!

Auntie Bee – She’s the paragon of a Malaysian Auntie where every elder on the street is either an Aunty or Uncle. Auntie Bee is hahahaha, just so hilariously sarcastic and savage in a way that only Malaysian mothers can be. I love, love, love her!

Uncle Chong – If only we had more people like him back in the 1900s , if he was a politician, he could change the entire Malaysia if he wished. He is a man that is always prepared for anything, that father who always has an extra RM5 to buy bread for a hungry child on the street or that Uncle who knows exactly how to fix your flat tire PLUS oils your bicycle chains for you!

Frankie – Oh dear, this little smol bean of Slytherin moods. He wants to do the right thing, he wants his family to be proud of him like they are proud of his brother. He wants their approval so badly that he sometimes makes bad choices. He just loves his family a lot and would do anything for them, get his hands bloody and all.

Safiyah – I need a friend like this – a direct spark of light from the biggest star in the universe; the Sun. She is such a joy to be around. Dancing and singing like nobody’s watching. If she is a real person living in our world, Shake it Off by Taylor Swift would be her jam. She would set it as her alarm, her ringtone, her message ring, her notification, her doorbell even!

Melati’s Mama – Yang Allah, this woman is steel! She is stronger than steel in fact! She reminds me of my mother. SO, SO, SO strong and kind and brave and delicate at the same time. She loves her daughter, which can be said as an understatement. If there is a word above ‘Love’, that’s that word to describe the love between Melati and her Mama.

I only wrote down the characters that are more towards the main characters in the book. You’ll have to discover the side characters all by yourself when you read this book.

Taken from Webtoon

News flash, this book is now a comic on Webtoon! YES! And the drawings are drop dead gorgeous. Please, please, please go support! I read it every time it comes out and does my heart dies a little? Nope. It stopped beating. Only the next episode of Twoos comic revies it only to murder my soul.

Taken from Webtoon

I might come back to update this after I do a reread. Thank you for reading! 🙂

Update from Untitled Book Club Ramadhan Readathon reread:
Yeah, Tony Stark has a heart. I have one but I don’t want it. It hurts too much. It feels too much. This reread has destroyed me inside. I didn’t cry like the first time but I am sobbing like a baby inside. Rest in peace to all the fallen during the 1969 riots. We will hold up our sky together.

“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.”

By elysianbooksish

The Bookish Faerie who loves to read and write, and bake too

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s