This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed
Narrator: Soneela Nankani, Amin El Gamal
Length: 10 hours 7 minutes
on May 10, 2022
Genres: Young Adult Fiction / People & Places / United States / Asian American & Pacific Islander, Young Adult Fiction / Religious / Muslim, Young Adult Fiction / Social Themes / Prejudice & Racism, Young Adult Fiction / Thrillers & Suspense / Crime
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Buy on Amazon, Buy on Bookshop
A powerful, gripping YA novel about the insidious nature of racism, the terrible costs of unearthing hidden truths, and the undeniable power of hope, by New York Times bestselling author Samira Ahmed. Perfect for fans of Sadie and Dear Martin.
Safiya Mirza dreams of becoming a journalist. And one thing she’s learned as editor of her school newspaper is that a journalist’s job is to find the facts and not let personal biases affect the story. But all that changes the day she finds the body of a murdered boy.
Jawad Ali was fourteen years old when he built a cosplay jetpack that a teacher mistook for a bomb. A jetpack that got him arrested, labeled a terrorist—and eventually killed. But he’s more than a dead body, and more than “Bomb Boy.” He was a person with a life worth remembering.
Driven by Jawad’s haunting voice guiding her throughout her investigation, Safiya seeks to tell the whole truth about the murdered boy and those who killed him because of their hate-based beliefs.
This gripping and powerful book uses an innovative format and lyrical prose to expose the evil that exists in front of us, and the silent complicity of the privileged who create alternative facts to bend the truth to their liking.
I don’t really know how to start this review except to say that this book snatched me up by my collar and held on tight until the end. Afterwards, I just sat there for 15 minutes embracing the feeling of being blown away. Full disclosure: I did not know this novel was a thriller ahead of time! I was just minding my business when I saw that Samira Ahmed had a new book out. I loved the first book I read of hers, Internment, so I had my reservation for a hold in early at the library for Hollow Fires. I’m so happy that I didn’t have to wait long, because this book was great!
Audiobook or Physical: Do Both!!!
This audiobook was great! Soneela Nankani, who narrated Internment, returns to narrate Safiya’s voice for Hollow Fires. Amin El Gamal narrates Jawad’s voice. I loved that they hired to voice actors for the two points of views.
If you can, I would recommend pairing the audiobook with the physical copy. The format of the book is very engaging and I appreciated the unique text and media features throughout the book. It really enhanced the storytelling. The features include the Fact/Truth/Lie/Alternative Fact statements at the beginning of each Safiya chapter that are also paired with dates (pay attention to the dates!); as well as text messages; transcripts; blog/magazine/news articles and court record excerpts. All of these make for a rich storytelling experience as Safiya researches and investigates Jawad’s case and incidents at her own school.
Hollow Fires features two point of views. One is that of Safiya Mirza, who is the editor or her high school newspaper. The second is that of Jawad Ali, a 14 year old boy murdered after he made a cosplay jetpack for Halloween and his teacher called the police on him claiming it was a bomb, which gains him deadly attention. Jawad’s haunting voice calls to Safiya as she investigates his disappearance and looks for connections that indicate that his murderers were racists.
Tough, Timely Topics
This novel is very timely. Hollow Fires explores the toxic effects of Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, extremism on teens. Safiya is an Indian-American high school student and Jawad is the son of Iraqi immigrants. Racism is often depicted as being Black vs white, and that leaves out the entire scope of how damaging white supremacy is for everyone. This novel explores how racism affects non-Black people of color in the United States.
The novel also explores the radicalization of young white boys who are indoctrinated with alt-right and other racist and extremist viewpoints as they spend hours online unsupervised. There is even a magazine article included early on in the book, “It’s 2:00 A.M. Do You Know Who’s Radicalizing Your Son Online?”
So I’m a former journalist and Journalism Adviser. I have a soft spot for young adult books that feature student journalists. There are so many issues that student journalists have to navigate and Safiya has to navigate a major one which is trying to maintain her autonomy. High school journalism programs face this issue all of the time. Everything is good until they publish something that makes the administration or another stakeholder feel uncomfortable.
Safiya is in a position where she is being scrutinized because of her race and economic status. But she fights to have her voice heard against the racist incidents at her private school. I know that reading a novel is not the norm in a Journalism class, but I think her journey would be an interesting one to discuss with students. She is very determined and she utilizes her investigative journalist skills to solve the crimes that have been committed at her school and in her community.
Ripped From the Headlines
Jawad’s story seems to be based on the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a young high school student who built a clock and was arrested for it at school. You can check out a news story here. I remember this story and being so frustrated by it. It was so appalling that a boy who was super intelligent and innovative was being punished for it because he was brown and Muslim. It really put a spotlight on the fact that not all teacher-student relationships are safe. Through Safiya’s voice there is also an exploration of the racial aspect of who gets the benefit of the doubt in society. I’ve also seen it referenced in Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahemy.
There is actually more than one headline framed in Hollow Fires. Because I listened to audiobook first, I didn’t find out what the secondary ripped from the headline story actually was until the end of the book. I was blown away! You should definitely read the historical note.
HAVE A SIP OF COCOA ☕…
I came for… the author, Samira Ahmed! Because I loved her book, Internment!
I stayed for…. the thriller aspect of Safiya’s investigation.
Hot Cocoa Moments: Honestly, it was trying to figure out who committed the crimes. I can usually guess who all of the bad guys are, but I have to admit that this one got me. Trust your gut folks… I should have. Then I wouldn’t have been as devastated. Excellent execution Ms. Ahmed!
Would I Read it Again: Yes
Educator Recommendations: I would love to teach this book in a high school English/Social Studies/Creative Writing/Journalism class. This is a great book to foster inquiry using Safiya’s investigation as a model. Since the book incorporates multiple types of media into the narrative, it also is a great opportunity to teach a novel and build research skills at the same time. If you are teaching creative writing, I would recommend having students choose a case or a ripped from the headlines news story and then letting them practice writing their own true crime or thriller short story.
Resources: Book Club Guide