Hollow Fires

Hollow Fires
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.

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powerful and visceral YA contemporary
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HOLLOW FIRES is a potent, riveting, and emotional YA contemporary read. The story is told from the perspectives of Jawad, a 14-year-old boy who was murdered, and Safiya, a teen journalist who is seeking what happened to him. In between their perspectives are newspaper and social media listings relevant to the case, painting a chilling and accurate portrait of modern life.

Jawad is known for a mistake he did not even realize he was making. For a school club, he designed a jet pack for a costume and brought it to school to show off, when a teacher made assumptions and called the police. His arrest became infamous, and he was targeted by classmates and the public, ultimately leading to his kidnapping and death.

Safiya is the editor for the private school paper, and as part of the Muslim community, feeling the heat of the targeted letters and hate. She is invested in learning what happened to Jawad, even when the police and others seem to have forgotten him. Her persistence propels the case forward as she faces the cruelty of others and dark reality of the privileged world in which she attends school.

What I loved: This is an absolutely consuming and visceral read. The inclusion of Jawad's voice throughout the book really brings this tragedy to life and maintains a focus on the victim, something juxtaposed by the media coverage, particularly later coverage. It is a really powerful story that challenges the way society currently runs and urges us to do better, for the Jawads who are around us. Keep the tissues handy - Jawad becomes really tangible, even as he is fading away, and his connection with Safiya grows during the story. His story is timely and resonates through history and current events.

The novel also includes newspaper articles and social media posts, as well as podcasts and interviews throughout. These samples of media coverage lead the discussion around bias, problematic exposures, and the conclusions drawn by society. In places, it is really terrible, and this really brings home the need for thoughtful media consumption as well as the current state of affairs. This theme is particularly powerful and captured throughout, not only with this format, but also with the truths, lies, and "alternative facts" laid out at the beginning of each chapter.

Safiya herself is a really compelling character whose story includes sections of being a typical teenager, with worrying over crushes - but also the weight of carrying prejudices in the world around her, fighting for justice, and the challenges she and her family face as Muslims. Safiya faces challenges with her school administration, the police, her classmates, and the world around her, who see her as one thing and allow their hate to pervade. This focus and perspectives make her story even more potent.

Themes around societal injustice and prejudice, white radicalism, biased media coverage, prejudice in crimes, and power structures that allow these to go unchecked are really forceful and powerful. This is definitely a story that would lend itself to big and important discussions for book groups or in the classroom. There is a lot to consider and delve deeper into.

Final verdict: Visceral and riveting, HOLLOW FIRES is a YA contemporary that challenges the reader to critically examine the world around them and fight prejudice. Highly recommend picking up this emotional and powerful book!
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