Dear Reader, Love Author: Samira Ahmed
Hollow Fires is my 5th novel and in many ways, it’s the one closest to my heart. It’s definitely the one that was hardest to write. There were times I didn’t quite think I was going to get to The End but the thought of you picking it up inspired me to dig in, to keep going.
Like my other young adult novels, Hollow Fires is a story about a revolutionary girl, Safiya. A young woman who is confronted with terrible situation who strives to find her voice, to do the right thing, to use her power and privilege for a purpose. In Safiya’s case that instinct brings her closer and closer to real danger. But still, she persists, because she knows that truth is worth fighting for.
Hollow Fires is also a ghost’s story. A tale about a dead boy, told in his voice. Jawad was a kid with dreams, with hopes, with quirks, with a particular passion for building things, for inventing things. All that was ripped away from him. I felt very strongly that I wanted to give Jawad a point of view in this novel. As part of my research, I read nonfiction about cold cases, listened to lots of true crime podcasts. And one thing that continued to needle at me was how much we, as a society, focus on the perpetrator of the crime. The murderer gets remembered and, too often, their victim is forgotten by all but those who loved them most, whose lives were ripped open by a heinous act of hate. Even though Jawad is a fictional character, I didn’t want him to be forgotten.
But there’s a third story in this novel, beyond Safiya’s and Jawad’s. It’s a story about truth and facts and lies. It’s a challenge to the myth of journalistic “objectivity” or institutional “neutrality.” This story, told through found documents—newspaper articles and podcasts, blog posts and editorials, Tweets and Reddit threads—is really a story about Us. It’s a portrait of who’s stories we deem worthy of telling. It’s a tale of who gets to write those stories and how those stories are framed. It’s about us, as a society, asking ourselves tough questions, ones that will unearth uncomfortable truths. It’s about defining who we are and who we want to be.
Hollow Fires has some deeply sad moments but I believe even in the bleakest times, we can find hope. Hope isn’t passive feeling. It’s an act—often a defiant one, a revolutionary one. A choice, in this novel, that says we will shine a light on the truth even when it’s hard to confront. I invite you to choose hope.
Thank you so much for picking up Hollow Fires! I hope you can find a piece of yourself in this story.
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.