Hollow Fires

Hollow Fires

by Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult Fiction / People & Places / United States / Asian American, Young Adult Fiction / Religious / Muslim, Young Adult Fiction / Social Themes / Prejudice & Racism, Young Adult Fiction / Thrillers & Suspense / Crime
Length: 10:08
Narrator: Soneela Nankani, Amin El Gamal
Published on May 10, 2022
Pages: 400
Format: Audiobook Source: Library
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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.

This book draws from several real events to craft a story about a boy who is murdered after he gains attention for being arrested. Jawad makes a jetpack to use in his Halloween costume. A teacher calls the police to tell them that an “Arab boy” has a bomb in school. Even though he is cleared of charges, he gains the nickname Bomb Boy and is harassed. Soon afterward he disappears.

Safiya is a senior journalism student who starts investigating several instances of hateful vandalism. Eventually her investigating leads her into Jawad’s story. Do all these events really link together or is she making connections where she shouldn’t be?

This story is heartbreaking because it shows clearly the systemic racism and classism in investigating crimes. Who cares if a poor immigrant Muslim boy disappears? Why is he remembered more for being “Bomb Boy” than for his disappearance? Will the police take a Muslim high schooler seriously when she has evidence that implicates a rich white boy?

This is a YA book and I’m not a YA person. I find the horrible things that teenagers do in this story so frustrating. There is a lot of lying because you can’t trust adults and then that puts her in danger over and over again. She doesn’t learn. I was grumbling about kids making poor life choices. I was able to overlook Safiya’s overwhelming stupidity (which she acknowledges frequently) because the rest of the story was so good.

Make sure you listen to the historical note at the end to see how this story was taken from a famous murder case.