As someone who will buy anything Samira Ahmed writes, I had high expectations for Hollow Fires. And it was everything I wanted and more! I wasn’t expecting to love another of her books as much as Internment, but this one 100% my favorite. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: racism, islamophobia, anti-Semitism
I kind of knew Hollow Fires would break my heart from the premise alone. And then within the book, my heart got broken about 5 or 6 times. Hollow Fires is heart wrenching, but don’t let that discourage you. This book deserves to be read. It’s an examination of radicalization, islamaphobia, and fuels rage, but also provides hope. From the beginning, Ahmed explores not only explicit hate crimes, but also the implicit way people give perpetrators “second chances”. Or the way they are unwilling to speak against them, to see their own biases.
Being dual POV with Safiya and Jawad was going to wreck me. Spoiler alert, it did. Hollow Fires balances this chilling mystery and suspense – where is Jawad – with an examination of hatred and ignorance. Full of moments of fear in the pit of your stomach and rage in your heart, it’s also has moments of levity and happiness, of romance and family moments. Piece of interviews sprinkled throughout the book heighten the suspense and atmosphere, while also looking at the events differently.
I was able to listen to the audio book, and the dual narrator choice is firstly, 100% the right call, and secondly, the choice of Soneela Nankani & Amin El Gamal was perfect. They are both able to infuse fear and doubt, action and hope, into Hollow Fires. It lends itself to this compulsive desire to finish the book and I ended up just laying on the couch to finish it by the end.
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If you’re a fan of Ahmed’s stories, this is a must read. But if you’ve never read one, and you love a story which is emotionally raw, but also provides a beacon of hope – Hollow Fires is for you. Find Hollow Fires on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org, The Book Depository, Libro.fm & Google Play.