Monday, April 13, 2015

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan by Atia Abawi Review

"A novel of love during a time of war by NBC's Afghanistan correspondent.

Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.

This is an absolute must read not just for teens but for anyone who has lived during the time of America's War in Afghanistan.

"[The Secret Sky is] a tale of the indomitable Afghan spirit of hope and love. Among the many novels set in Afghanistan for young people or for adults, The Secret Sky stands alone. Unputdownable. Unforgettable." –Trent Reedy, author of Words in the Dust"

The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan has a ridiculously long subtitle. Seriously, it is too long and annoyingly so. For now, I will call it The Secret Sky instead of the full (and fun) title. It is like calling Queen Elizabeth II her full majestic name and all those other titles I can't bother remembering for the sake of my life and mind. 

Now, knowing about Afghanistan's history would certainly help when one reads The Secret Sky. Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union back in 1979. It is a crazy war (and all wars are crazy, mind you). After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, the Taliban (which interestingly means "students") takes control of Afghanistan (though not right away, but I'm not going to explain that). So the book is set in an area which is controlled by the Taliban. 

Told from three characters (three much different voices), The Secret Sky stars a romance that reminds me of the starcrossed lovers, Juliet and her Romeo. Sami and Fatima are the two lovers, who come from different ethic groups. (Sami is the guy, Fatima the lady. I know. The names are strange and weird.) The romance is odd, and there is this... sort of difference between other YA romance and this romance. This romance has a much different spark and burn. It is delightful to see a much different relationship that still has the markings of many old romances (most notable, Romeo and Juliet). 

The world building is vivid, and I can imagine the setting easily. It is vibrant in its beauty, but the harshness of Fatima and Sami's enemies sharpens the contrast between light and darkness. It is really cool (and surprisingly shocking) balance to have in a book. Abawi definitely pulls off the balance, making it really nice and simple. 

One of the best parts of The Secret Sky is the violence and the horror. Yes, I know that it is ironic to say this, but I have to say it. It is chilling, and it frequently reminds me that The Secret Sky has a much more deadlier world with gruesome parts and bits. Some parts remind me of a Christian novel (except it isn't, because the characters are Muslim), especially the prayers in the book. (I won't go into too many details about that.) 

Overall, The Secret Sky has a sort of adorable and awkward romance that hampers the plot and speeds up the conflict's arrival. Some characters are great while others fall behind. (Rashid and Fatima are great. Sami, not so much.) The book is definitely great with its details, and it manages to remain suspenseful and entertaining while being dark. 

Rating: Three out of Five

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