The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf
Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: February 5, 2019
When a race riot between the Malays and Chinese breaks out in 1969 Malaysia, Melati, who is Malay, must survive while overcoming her OCD and searching for her mother. She is aided by a Chinese family, forming a bond with them and, particularly, their teenage son Vince.
With brevity and brisk-pacing, The Weight of Our Sky is a moving, emotional, and believable portrayal of a teenager living with OCD as she encounters violence, trauma, and grief. The depiction of OCD is thoughtful and thought-provoking, making it understandable to those inexperienced with mental illness. Moreover, while Melati is able to find better ways to cope with her OCD, she isn’t miraculously cured.
Although centered on a race riot, neither side is stereotyped but instead presented in a multidimensional way. The bond Melati forms with Vince and his family, including the kindness they offer each other, emphasizes the theme that, despite their racial differences, they are all Malaysian. The violence of the riot and in Melati’s imagination due to her OCD illustrates the actual devastation caused by the event and what Melati grapples with as someone with OCD.
Powerful in its portrayal of an incident involving race, prejudice, and violence and featuring a profound and in-depth characterization for Melati, The Weight of Our Sky will resonate with readers living with mental illness or encountering racial divides.
For fans of historical fiction such as Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez or Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, this will be a hit.
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan
Bloomsbury YA / Macmillan
Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Watch Us Rise is a topical and relevant title that examines discrimination and intersectionality through a teen girl’s lens. Combine this with the power of friendship and family, and you have a novel that is both timely and impactful. Jasmine and Chelsea are entering their junior year and are sick and tired of the sexism and overt discrimination they see at their school. By starting a club and blog to educate and inform the student body of everyday racism, sexism, and body shaming, they start a revolution!
Imagine the ideal friend and family dynamic for a teen today, and you will be able to picture the relationship between Jasmine and Chelsea. These characters were so believable, you could imagine meeting them in your own high school. Watson and Hagan do not shy away from friendship conflict. When the Write Like a Girl blog creates promotional shirts not considering plus size Womyn, Jasmine talks to Chelsea about how only considering normative body types is its own type of discrimination. Both grow from the rift emotionally, and there are multiple instances of true sisterhood throughout. Sometimes all of the injustices being noticed and rebuked can bog down the story but, the pacing is spectacular, and moves the narrative along nicely.
Watch Us Rise has a strong message of unity, examines daily injustices, and empowers young people to be the change they want to see. The book includes resources to get more information, to help readers to stand up for what they believe in and, perhaps, even to start their own revolution.
Hand this to fans of Home and Away by Candice Montgomery and fans of The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.
–Audrey Hopkins and Stephanie Charlefour