CBR11 Bingo Square: Youths!
This book was on the featured wall of the Young Adult section of our library, and the cover art immediately drew me in. Although written as a YA novel with a teenage protagonist, this novel specifically includes an author’s note at the beginning warning for content including racism, graphic violence, death, OCD and anxiety triggers. Suffice to say, this is a heavy book based on the real events of the 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, albeit about a fictional character.
The of The Weight of Our Sky follows a teenage girl named Melati, who is just trying to get through life like a normal kid her age, all while dealing with a Djinn inside her head. This Djinn is what today we would diagnose as OCD, and it takes the form of images of a gruesome death befalling Melati’s mother playing over and over in her head, unless she acts out elaborate schemes of counting and tapping in threes: if she doesn’t do what the Djinn wants, she is afraid that her mother will die. This in itself is bad enough, but then one day while out with a friend, racial tensions in Kuala Lumpur boil over, resulting in a race war between the Malays and the Chinese. All Melati want to do is find her mother, but separated by a city tearing itself apart, she needs to look for help in people she never expected, and find a strength in herself to push through.
I knew very little about the race riots in Malaysia going into this novel, and now I am certainly more interested in learning about these events. It was certainly an enthralling book to read, if perhaps a little repetitive in its themes (and certainly the messaging inside Melati’s head, at times, which indeed is kind of the point). As mention above, there are some serious topics dealt with in this novel, and for the most part I feel this is done so with tact, but not without shying away from the realities of the situation.
The biggest issue I had with the novel is that the end rushes up very quickly in comparison with some of the pacing of the rest: it’s like the cogs suddenly started turning much faster in order to deliver a resolution, both in terms of actual action and also with Melati and her mental state. However, overall, The Weight of Our Sky was a worthwhile read about a subject/event in history that I have rarely seen touched on in fiction, and a YA novel at that. I always appreciate when such histories are made accessible to younger audiences, as I don’t believe that certain realities of life should be so closed off (or considered “adult”) when they may still have a profound effect on what endures today. And despite all the heaviness, there are many moments in this novel that highlight the good that can found in humanity: those people who despite all the terrible things being thrown at them, still look to help and be a force of good.