The Secret Sky
by Atia Abawi
I'm not really sure what to say about this book. I liked it, but it was also kind of disappointing at the same time and isn't one that will stick with me. I wanted to love it, I expected to, but I just didn't.Summary: 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.
I had some problems with the book itself and the another problem was more my own issue--I'll start with the latter.
One of my favourite books is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It has a love story in it, it's set in Afghanistan, it has Muslim characters and I really, really loved it. It really brought to life the setting and the characters, and the love story in the book is one of my all time favourites too (even if it wasn't the focus).
This book? It shares a lot of the same basic elements as A Thousand Splendid Suns, so I went into it hoping it would be as good but it didn't even come close to measuring up. So...that's my personal issue with the book. Now onto my issues with the book itself.
I didn't really like the writing. I didn't notice it so much in the second half of the book, but in the first half it bugged me--I can't pin point what it was about it. Rashid's early chapters were the worst, they just had a sort of Scooby Doo villain quality to them and lines like "And I would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling kids!" would've been right at home.
The characters, for the most part, were kind of flat. Same with the setting--the way it was written didn't bring the country to life for me the way other books have in the past. Also, a lot of the interesting things about the culture were overshadowed by negatives or extremes, which was disappointing.
The main problem was that, for the majority of the book, it didn't make me feel anything. I felt no connection to any of the characters or anything going on, so it was hard to care or feel invested in what was happening to them--that only started to change in the last third of the book, but by that point it was too late to really save it.
The love story was a big let down too. This is one of those stories where there's no chemistry between the two characters, no spark, nothing really making me feel why they want to be together. We're told they were childhood friends* and they're obviously physically attracted to each other...but we're just supposed to accept that they love each other because the book says they do without really being shown it happening and it feels like they go from zero to "let's throw away everything else in our lives to be together!" after spending barely any time together (again, because we're not shown much of the time they spend together).
Basically, the book was just kind of bland. It wasn't bad, it was just okay. I'd rate it 3 stars out of 5, but I do still recommend you check it out because diversity is awesome and opinions are subjective, and you may not have the same issue as I did where you can't help but compare it to one of your all time favourite books.
*The whole childhood friends aspect was another thing it had in common with A Thousand Splendid Suns, but A Thousand Splendid Suns showed more chemistry and love between the two characters in a handful of scenes than this one did the entire book. So, when it's written well enough, writing childhood friends falling in love can be excellent...this one just didn't work for me at all.