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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 movie-going, 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.

A trip to the movies after school turns into a nightmare when the city erupts into violent race riots between the Chinese and the Malay. When gangsters come into the theater and hold movie-goers hostage, Mel, a Malay, is saved by a Chinese woman, but has to leave her best friend behind to die.

On their journey through town, Mel sees for herself the devastation caused by the riots. In her village, a neighbor tells her that her mother, a nurse, was called in to help with the many bodies piling up at the hospital. Mel must survive on her own, with the help of a few kind strangers, until she finds her mother. But the djinn in her mind threatens her ability to cope.

The Weight Of Our Sky Q&A with Hanna Alkaf

First of all, we would like to congratulate you in publishing your debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY. What is the story about?

The Weight of Our Sky is the story of Melati Ahmad, who looks like your typical Beatles-obsessed 16-year-old except for one thing: She wrestles with a Djinn in her head, who threatens her with gruesome images of her mother's death unless she appeases him with a series of complicated counting and tapping rituals. When Mel finds herself separated from her mother amidst the chaos of the 13th May 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, it will take all the grit, courage and Beatles songs in her arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets and her own escalating anxieties to make her way back to the one person she can’t afford to lose.

Where did you get the inspiration for the story and to write? 

When it comes to writing, whether for fiction or nonfiction, I'm always most intrigued by omission: What stories we AREN'T reading, whose voices we AREN'T hearing. The May 13th riots have fascinated me since school days, when they were covered in two or three sterile paragraphs. I think young readers deserve to know more about our history, even in a fictionalised account like this one.

How do you get a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster. This is no easy feat especially a new author and not from the US or UK. 

You'd have to ask my editor this question! There's no magic formula, no easy way to say "this is how I did it;" I wrote the best book I could, did as much research as I could, followed guidelines, asked for advice, immersed myself in the YA writing community, and prayed for good things. And no matter what happened, I just kept writing, which is the most important thing.

Are we expecting a movie adaptation in the works? ;

-) Not that I know of, but I certainly won't complain if it happens!

Photograph (c) Azalia Suhaimi

About The Author

Hanna Alkaf described herself as a storyteller, doodler, and a full-time wrangler of two tiny humans.

Hanna graduated with a degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has served her time as a content creator in B2B online marketin, a senior writer at Marie Claire and the communications manager at Teach For Malaysia.

At age 18, she wrote her first work of fiction, a short story that was selected for publication in a local anthology. Then, at age 30, she penned The Tryouts, which went on to win the inaugural DK Dutt Award for Literary Excellence, and which appears in the companion anthology Champion Fellas.

At the end of 2016, she started a young adult novel, the very first one she’d ever attempted and by 2017, she had a literary agent and a book deal. And now you can buy that book, THE WEIGHT OF OUR SKY, in bookstores all around the world.

You may visit Hanna Alkaf  in these spaces: Twitter/Instagram/Hanna’s Website

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Hanna Alkaf

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