THE SECRET SKY

A NOVEL OF FORBIDDEN LOVE IN AFGHANISTAN

Riveting plot, sympathetic characters and straightforward narration studded with vivid, authentic detail: a top choice.

At its heart, this gripping debut by an Afghan-American journalist is a simple love story, but in today’s Afghanistan—riven by culture clashes, scarred by decades of war—nothing is simple.

Fatima’s tiny village is isolated from city amenities but not from war. Its Pashtun and Hazara families have endured heartbreaking losses and, amid crushing poverty, hold tight to what remains. The elderly woman teaching her to read recalls freer times, but Fatima, who’s Hazara and barely past puberty, faces a drastically limited future—her mother wants her married. When Fatima’s childhood Pashtun friend, Samiullah, returns from his madrassa, their mutual attraction grows. But even chaste meetings violate strict cultural edicts; transgressions can have lethal consequences. Their discovery by Sami’s cousin Rashid, embittered by jealousy and family tragedy, sets in motion events that change their lives, and those of their families and village, forever. All characters are Afghans, political attributions vague or neutral (the Taliban’s criticized but not vilified). Abawi reserves condemnation for the violent, twisted opportunists who take advantage of chaos. Juxtaposed with horrific events, the tone and stylistic conventions of lighter teen fare occasionally feel jarring. First-person, present-tense narration confines the story to the here and now, yet that immediacy brings closer this ancient, complicated country bound to ours.

Riveting plot, sympathetic characters and straightforward narration studded with vivid, authentic detail: a top choice. (author’s note, glossary) (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16078-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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