by Hanna Alkaf
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 moviegoing, 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.
But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.
With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.
Rating: 5 stars
I had heard a lot of good about this book and it did not disappoint. It was probably one of my favorite books in a long time and reminded me why I love historical fiction. I’m desperate now to read more stories like this and can’t seem to find any that comes close to this important story.
This story deals with a lot of hard topics such as two groups fighting against each other, the violence that indigenous people often face, mental illness, grief, and a lot more. And it was all handled well and in a way that made you desperate for more of it and more stories like it. The way this story deals with these difficulties is amazing and very well done. It handles this history well, as an author who knows what happened and understands the emotions that this event occurred. Mel as a character is interesting and real. She’s flawed and brave and willing to do what she must to survive.
The mental illness element in this story is so important. It’s realistic of a person who is suffering from untreated OCD. Real OCD, not what people like to pretend is OCD. As someone who has been in a similar space, of a different mental illness, it felt as real as my own moments so close from breaking apart. Of course, this story also plays the fact mental illness was treated in a totally different manner as of today. There was insane asylums and the fear of being left there, of lobotomies. It of course then touches on religion and the belief that a Djinn is the fault for her behavior. I think this was well done. Djinns are real creatures according to the Muslim religion, so to think it was corrupting her thoughts was logical for her to believe. And it’s important to understanding her story. My favorite part however was that there was no magical fix. Mel is forced into a horrible situation that shock and the stress of it almost completely breaks her before she has a moment of clarity. After, she still suffers from her OCD but she realizes she has some control of it. The amount of triggers she faces in this week that the story takes place is mind blowing. But she’s strong and is able to live through it when others failed.
I loved this story and I highly recommend it. But like the author, I do not recommend it if you aren’t in a good headspace. There is a full list of triggers in the start of the book that you should look over before reading. It did nearly trigger my own depression more than once, was faced with horrors that felt almost real. It’s what makes this story so important, but you need to look after yourself first.