hanna alkaf: the weight of our sky, the girl and the ghost, queen of the tiles | standalone reviews

– Reviews for standalone novels by Hanna Alkaf –
☁︎ The Weight of Our Sky | 👻 The Girl and the Ghost | 👑 Queen of the Tiles


The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

Published February 5th 2019 by Salaam Reads
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Representation: Malaysian cast, MC with OCD


Rating: 5 out of 5.


A music-loving teen with OCD does everything she can to find her way back to her mother during the historic race riots in 1969 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this heart-pounding literary debut.

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical moviegoing, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames. 

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.


trigger and content warnings:
  • racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers

What a devastating story of the dark times in Malaysia. As a Singaporean child, I was aware of the brutality and the violence in 1969. Upon reading Mel’s story through Hanna Alkaf’s words, this nightmare felt even more vivid. The war tore families apart, hundreds died, and animosity arose between races. I couldn’t help but be invested in Melati’s quest to find her mother during the riot.

Hanna Alkaf did a fantastic job in portraying the perspectives during this historic race riot. While there were those on opposing sides, there are still people helping each other to survive regardless of their race.

“We make our own luck in this world, girls,” she’d say.

Experiencing OCD through Mel was a whole new experience, especially with her belief that it’s linked to the Djinn. All those little things that she must do to calm herself down, to make her less anxious and feel better just made her braver.

Hanna Alkaf perfectly described Mel’s constant fear and anxiety which was palpable. Her self-deprecating thoughts were heartbreaking. I loved watching her journey into her acceptance of her OCD and every brave moment she had in the book. She grew more resilient in the toughest of times. Not only that, Mel’s sense of justice and willingness to help others despite her own inner demons was inspiring as well.

A thing about the dialogue, I loved the inclusion of “lah” which is a slang frequently used in Malaysia and Singapore. Also, I spotted a Hokkien profanity with a balance of shock and excitement.

Meeting Auntie Bee and Uncle Chong amidst all the chaos was a wonderful delight. Despite the war raging on between the Chinese and the Malays, the couple opened up their doors to anyone who needed shelter or help regardless of their race.

“Do not ever let anyone tell you that you do not belong here,” she had said, looking at us intently. “We all do . There is space for all of us.”


The next review is for Hanna Alkaf’s The Girl and the Ghost, another standalone!

☁︎ The Weight of Our Sky | 👻 The Girl and the Ghost | 👑 Queen of the Tiles


The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

Published August 4th 2020 by HarperCollins
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Representation: Malaysian cast


Rating: 5 out of 5.


I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.


I’ll be rereading The Girl and the Ghost for years to come. It evoked a familiar sense of belonging with Hanna Alkaf’s writing. The immersive Malaysian folklore with a mixture of malicious ghosts and friendly ones gives the book a touch of spookiness and light-heartedness. There’s deliciously described food that made me want to travel to Malaysia just to have a taste of it all. Most importantly, it’s a story of a once-lonely girl who found a ghost friend. There were elements of bullying, forgiveness, and letting go.

As a pelesit, Pink has a darker side that was unseen by Suraya when they first met. Often, Pink mentioned that he’s unfeeling, doesn’t have a heart, and doesn’t know what human emotions are. However, he gradually realized that the lack of a physical heart didn’t mean that he wasn’t affected by what was happening. For a mischievous ghost, he had a lot of wise quotes. By the end of the book, Pink grew a lot. He acknowledged his feelings with surety and wasn’t hesitant about anything.

I am a dark spirit, the ghost said desperately. I am a powerful being. I have the wisdom of the ages. I cannot be called PINK.

Suraya seemed wise beyond her years. For her whole life, it’s just Suraya and her mother. Suraya’s sweet and kind but a lonely girl. When Pink showed up one day, she finally had a friend all to herself. Filled with curiosity, Suraya always wondered about her grandmother and her father but her only parent would never tell her anything.

Even though her friendship soured and got a little toxic in the middle, it was still heartwarming to see Suraya and Pink conquer obstacles together. I loved that Suraya would call out Pink’s toxic behaviors and was proactive in stopping him even if it were towards her bullies.

“They’re never mistakes,” she told him. “Only chances to make something new.”

I thought it was going to be a light-hearted novel but boy, was I wrong. There was an undertone of creepiness and it wasn’t even attributed to the existence of the ghost, Pink, and every other paranormal creature we met were funny and normal. Ironically, it was the living beings that were making things scary.

The last thing I was expecting from this middle grade standalone was me crying. I didn’t anticipate that The Girl and the Ghost would make me teary-eyed. Honestly, I was caught up in the story that nothing else mattered except for finishing the book, so I didn’t even try to solve the mystery.

Finally, I loved how ingrained the Malaysian culture is within The Girl and the Ghost. Hanna Alkaf made me crave yummy Malaysian delicacies like nasi lemak, sambal belachan, and pisang goreng. Hanna Alkaf’s works were easy to read and personally, I could easily visualize the places and characters.


The next review is for Hanna Alkaf’s Queen of the Tiles, another standalone!

☁︎ The Weight of Our Sky | 👻 The Girl and the Ghost | 👑 Queen of the Tiles


Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf

Published April 19th 2022 by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Mystery, Contemporary
Representation: Malaysian Muslim MC with anxiety, Malaysian Chinese-English SC, Singaporean Chinese SC, Chinese-Indian SC


Rating: 4 out of 5.


13 points
noun: a person or thing that precipitates an event or change

When Najwa Bakri walks into her first Scrabble competition since her best friend’s death, it’s with the intention to heal and move on with her life. Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to choose the very same competition where said best friend, Trina Low, died. It might be even though Najwa’s trying to change, she’s not ready to give up Trina just yet.

But the same can’t be said for all the other competitors. With Trina, the Scrabble Queen herself, gone, the throne is empty, and her friends are eager to be the next reigning champion. All’s fair in love and Scrabble, but all bets are off when Trina’s formerly inactive Instagram starts posting again, with cryptic messages suggesting that maybe Trina’s death wasn’t as straightforward as everyone thought. And maybe someone at the competition had something to do with it.

As secrets are revealed and the true colors of her friends are shown, it’s up to Najwa to find out who’s behind these mysterious posts—not just to save Trina’s memory, but to save herself.



Been waiting for another Hanna Alkaf book ever since The Girl and the Ghost because I love her writing. Queen of the Tiles surrounds Najwa returning back to the Scrabble competition where her best friend died mysteriously. Najwa is determined to win the title of Queen in Trina’s honor. Readers enter a competitive world of betrayal, love, and secrets with Najwa.

Venturing into this murder mystery was incredibly fun, especially since it felt like I was there at the competition. Each participant is focused on one goal and one goal only. Trina was the reigning Scrabble Queen until her death. Her vivacious personality and devil-may-care attitude won her some fans and earned her enemies. Not everyone liked Trina.

Scrabble is a game of words, but its shape is defined by the mathematical precision of numbers: the fifteen-by-fifteen cell board, the one hundred tiles rattling around the bag, the point values printed in the right-hand corner of each one, the colored squares that denote double- or triple-word or letter scores.

Although Najwa was Trina’s best friend, she slowly realized that Trina might not be such a nice person after all. Najwa was reluctant to even start investigating Trina’s death. But as the truth is unveiled, Najwa finds that not everyone was honest about their relations with Trina.

Hanna Alkaf kept me invested in the Scrabble community as well as the murder mystery Najwa was investigating. Retrospectively, clues were scattered throughout the books waiting to be lined up and looked into. Trina’s death has affected Najwa immensely and it was obvious to everyone. I couldn’t put the book down at all. I needed to finish it and find out who was the one that revived Trina’s Instagram account.


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