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.
This book is also available in the following format:
In November every year, I try to read as many mysteries as I can. This November, I decided to focus on cozy mysteries partly because Checked In: A Davenport Library Podcast, hosted by three DPL librarians, will be talking about cozy mysteries, amongst other things, in our November episode. (You should check it out to hear myself and two other librarians talk about all things library). Cozy mysteries are considered the gentle reads of the mystery genre. They generally avoid graphic violence, sexual content, and profanity, but feature instead unlikely detectives. Right up my alley!
On my quest to read more cozy mysteries, I discovered Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala. This book is the first in a brand new series called Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery. (The second title Homicide and Halo-Halo is set to come out in February 2022.)This culturally diverse title is full of sharp humor and delicious food. The author even includes a list of recipes at the end of the novel. The end of this book clearly sets you up for a sequel. You even get to read a snippet of the next book in the series.
Lila Macapagal has moved back home. This was not what she wanted to do, but after a nasty breakup and not having completed college, Lila doesn’t really have any other options. Now living back home with her grandmother and aunt, Lila must figure out ways to help save her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. In addition to that huge task, Lila is also dealing with her big group of matchmaking aunties/godmothers who want her to settle down and be happy. They love her, but that love is tinged with judgment.
Lil’s ex-boyfriend also keeps popping up in her life too. He is a food critic that has been targeting all the local restaurants for the last couple years and is destroying businesses through his reviews. He has become increasingly nasty and has set his sights on Tita Rosie’s restaurant. While eating one day at the restaurant, he drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila. The aftermath of that has drastic consequences for the family. The local police treat Lila like she is their only suspect, their landlord wants to use the death as an excuse to kick the family out of the restaurant, and Lila’s best friend has started acting weird. Refusing to let her family be persecuted for something that they didn’t do, Lila decides to start investigating herself with the help of her family and friends. What she discovers is more complicated than she ever could have imagined.
Do you ever have a feeling that people aren’t what they seem? That they are keeping something from you? This is the premise of Allison Dickson’s book The Other Mrs. Miller where a woman who hardly leaves her house becomes increasingly more suspicious of the people in her life.
The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson tells the story of two women watching each other and the consequences that follow.
Phoebe Miller hardly leaves her house. She doesn’t see the point. Living on a cul-de-sac affords her the opportunity to watch her neighbors in relative peace, so when a car starts showing up on a fairly regular basis outside of her house, she immediately becomes suspicious. Why does the driver keep showing up? What business could they possibly have on her cul-de-sac? Could they be wanting to get information out of her because of her family?
While Phoebe’s family may be infamous, Phoebe herself is uninteresting. She’s an unhappy housewife who has gained weight in the past couple years due to her love of ice cream and wine. Phoebe and her husband don’t get along very well with issues becoming more and more present every day. Not really knowing how to make things better with her husband, she keeps going on with her daily life knowing things will eventually work themselves out.
Phoebe is soon distracted when a new family moves in across the street. Drawn into their web, Phoebe finds herself wanting to know more about the Napiers: the doctor husband, the bubbly and energetic wife Vicki, and the handsome college-bound son Jake. Leaving her house to introduce herself to the new neighbors, Phoebe quickly finds the companionship she has been lacking with the Napiers. While she is enjoying having a new friend and is coming out of her shell more, Phoebe is growing more and more distracted from the things that she really should be paying attention to, like the car that’s been showing up outside of her house. Her life becomes more unpredictable, leading to a climax that will have readers on the edge of their seats.
This domestic thriller kept my attention from the beginning with secrets and plot twists popping up until the very end. Check out this book and let me know what you think in the comments!
This book is available in the following formats:
I recently saw a local news story in which Illinois state senator Toi Hutchinson said that the legalization of cannabis in her state came as a result of the differing sides “hashing it out” to come to agreement. I don’t know whether or not the pun was intended, but as a librarian interested in languages, I appreciated it.
Soon after, I spotted the graphic novel Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America on display at the library and figured it would be a good way to better educate myself on the topic right at our doorstep. I was not disappointed. This graphic novel has four pages of sources cited at the end! It is equal parts interesting and informative.
It starts with what is known about early humans’ use of cannabis sativa from biology and mythology. It outlines how the plant has been cultivated for its various uses across the world (think: textiles & oils too). It traces the etymology of the many different words we use for it: hash, Mary Jane, reefer, weed, to name just a few. I learned that the word marijuana is believed to be derived from slang usage in Mexico near Catholic missionaries, where the priests condemned its use. Locals would tell the priest they were just spending time with Maria Juana!
The graphic novel delves into the “Reefer Madness” era during which commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger worked to criminalize its use by making false, racist claims about its use and users. It discusses how cannabis has been regulated through legislation and how its reputation has been manipulated. The graphic novel concludes with present-day uses and a bibliography listing sixty sources readers can seek out for further learning on the subject.
I highly recommend this book and I look forward to reading Box Brown’s other titles, including Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman and Tetris: The Games People Play.
You can also learn more on this topic from Illinois Policy, an independent organization that seeks to educate and engage Illinois citizens.