A girl battling mental illness searches for her mother during the historic race riots of 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Sixteen-year-old Melati Ahmad, a Malaysian of Malay descent, has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mel believes a djinn has taken over her consciousness and if she doesn’t placate it by counting in threes—her compulsive behavior—all her loved ones will die, and it’ll all be her fault. On May 13, the first day of the riots, Mel is saved by Auntie Bee, a Chinese-Malaysian stranger, and forced to leave her best friend, Saf, for dead. Wracked with guilt, Mel must battle her rising anxiety and the Djinn’s accusatory voice to find her missing mother. While the war between the Chinese and Malays rages on, Mel finds an ally in Auntie Bee’s son, Vince. Armed with a Red Cross curfew pass, Mel and Vince scour the city helping those in need. When faced with a life-or-death situation, Mel digs deep and finds the inner strength to confront the Djinn and stand up for what she believes in. This is a brutally honest, no-holds-barred reimagining of the time: The evocative voice transports readers to 1960s Malaysia, and the brisk pace is enthralling. Above all, the raw emotion splashed across the pages will resonate deeply, no matter one’s race or religion.
Unabashedly rooted in the author’s homeland and confronting timely topics and challenging themes, this book has broad appeal for teen readers. (Historical fiction. 14-18)