United Talent Agency
Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.
The Weight of Our Sky
The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf (2019)
The Weight of Our Sky is a phenomenal book geared towards those 12 and up. Unusual enough, it starts out with an author’s forward both warning of potentially seriously distressing material and thanking those readers that stick with it because of the importance of keeping the historical and realistic psychological content that is within from being sidelined or forgotten.
The Weight of Our Sky is a complex story that takes place during the events just after the contentious results of Malaysian elections in 1969 that culminated in street warfare and a large body count (196 officially, 600+ estimated by Western diplomatic sources). Focusing on Melati Ahmad, a young girl with a severe case of OCD that torments her with visions of her mother’s possible death as she desperately does what her mental illness dictates in an effort to protect her mother from a violent end. We see her home, the city of Kuala Lumpur, go up in flames and separating her from her mother. We see martial law from a child’s perspective; we see prejudices both personal and external and their effects on the individual and society. As I stated earlier, this is a complex story that isn’t afraid to look at some really heavy stuff while still trying to remain accessible to tweens and teen readers. Add into that all of the discussion of mental health, psychiatry, and the Muslims’ very real belief in jinn, the misunderstanding of what they are and what mental disease is and you have a truly ambitious book by any account.
Hanna Alkaf is a talented storyteller. Aklaf writes from a place she understands intimately. She is a native of Malaysia and loves her country with all her heart. She incorporates this love of place with an in-depth understanding of its history and the significance thereof. She not only manages to surround her very real and very relatable characters with well-researched historical facts, but also manages to seamlessly go between the character’s reality and her disease. I found that occasionally it would be so seamless that I would have to go back and reread a sentence to make sure I understood what was going on. The line between illness and reality was beautifully blurred and really makes the illness and the stigma of mental illness into something of its own character within the book. And yet, with all of this going on Alkaf still manages to keep it appropriate for her teen audience. As she states in her author’s note, it wasn’t so long ago that such a story wouldn’t even make it to the editor’s desk, much less to the reading public. Well worth the effort and read.
Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.