Samira Ahmed is an author who knows how to rip at your heart strings. So far, I have read two of her young adult fiction titles and they have decimated me, but in a way that had me thinking about the state of the world. Three years ago, I read Internment and had such a devastating book hangover after I finished that I knew I needed to read whatever she published next (Internment is set in a futuristic United States when Muslim-Americans are forced into internment camps. It tells the story of Layla Amin, a seventeen-year-old who leads a revolution against those complicit in silence). Samira’s latest soul-wrenching title is Hollow Fires. I’m still reeling from this book, yet I believe it’s a necessary read especially in today’s climate.
Hollow Fires is a powerful novel that tells the story of the evil that lives around us every day and how alternative facts created by the privileged bend the truth of a narrative to their will and desire. It’s a story of silent complicity, as well as outright and hidden racism. It’s about the will of a young journalist desperate to uncover the truth of what actually happened to a missing boy. If you enjoyed Sadie by Courtney Summers or Dear Martin by Nic Stone, I highly recommend you read this book.
Safiya Mirza wants to become a journalist. She is currently the editor of her private school’s newspaper, reporting on the facts of what is happening at her school, despite the administration wishing to push their own biases onto the paper. Safiya is a scholarship student, growing up in vastly different ways compared to her privileged classmates. Her desire to report only the facts and leave out any personal feelings changes the moment she finds the body of a murdered boy.
Jawad Ali was only fourteen years old. His public school had a makerspace where he was allowed to take recycled materials and repurpose them for whatever he wanted. Having had his current project approved by his teacher, Jawad built a cosplay jetpack to add to his Halloween costume. He brought the finished project to school to show his teacher and friends. One of his teachers mistook his jetpack for a bomb and alerted the police, which led to Jawad being arrested, labeled a terrorist, and eventually kidnapped and murdered. After his arrest, Jawad was cleared by the police, but his school still suspended him. His peers labeled him ‘Bomb Boy’ and his life as he knew it was changed forever.
Safiya is devastated after discovering Jawad’s body. His presence, voice, and smell are haunting her throughout the investigation, leading her to seek out the entire truth about Jawad’s murder and those who killed him because of their hate-fueled beliefs. Jawad was a person whose life was worth remembering exactly how he lived it and not how the media have spun it. Racist acts have been sprouting up all over Safiya’s school, as well as at her mosque and her parents’ store. Concerned they could be related to Jawad’s disappearance and with a lack of confidence in the local police department, Safiya begins an investigation of her own with the help of her friends and Jawad’s voice in her ear.
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