By Lucinda Dyer,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Gripping thriller has a message about standing up to hate.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Safiya and her mother both wear tasbih (prayer beads) around their wrists. Her mother's has 99 beads that are strung with silken thread that form a tassel at one end. Safiya's is smaller (33 beads) and made of sandalwood. Safiya knows that each prayer her mother whispers is for Jawad. Sadly, Jawad writes briefly of how the Muslim community bury and mourn their dead.
Readers are exposed to German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche, whose writings are often quoted by white supremacists.
It's important to stand up and speak out against hate speech and any kind of prejudice or racism.
Positive Role Models
Safiya has no illusions about what's happening in the world around her. She doesn't just read about racism and Islamaphobia or hear about it on the news, she encounters it almost every day. When her school continues to tolerate or ignore racist hate speech from its students, Safiya doesn't remain silent but speaks out boldly. "Racists and Islamaphobes are all around us," she says. "At work. At school. At the playground. It's our job it's find them, to name them." As a detective, she's relentless and fearless in her quest to find Jawad's killers.
Jawad is the son of Iraqi refugees. In Iraq, his father was a professor and a translator for Coalition Forces and his mother was a nurse. Now they own a dry cleaners. He attended a public school where the teacher who accused him of bringing a bomb to class never took the time to learn how to pronounce his name correctly. Safiya and her friends Asma and Usman are all Muslim and attend DuSable Prep. Safiya is Indian American and a scholarship student, while Asma comes from a wealthy family. Usman and his family are from Afghanistan, where they belonged to an often-persecuted ethnic minority. Safiya describes DuSable Prep as one of those schools that "celebrate diversity on paper, not necessarily in the admissions policy." Less than 10 percent of her classmates are Black, indigenous, or students of color, even though the school was named after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a Black Haitian who was the first non-indigenous resident of Chicago.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
Jawad describes being hit in the head, feeling something sticky and warm on his neck and having a cloth pressed down hard on his face. A White police officer points a gun and yells at an innocent Muslim teen until a Back woman officer intervenes. A girl fights off two boys trying to kidnap her. Someone paints a threat on the window of a store owned by Muslims. "Go Home F--king Terrorists 14/88." "14" is a reference to the number of words in a particular White supremacist slogan, and "88" symbolizes "Heil Hitler," as H is the eighth letter of alphabet.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Safiya's casual friendship with Richard, the White captain of the swimming and lacrosse teams, is beginning to develop into something more romantic. But nothing beyond a few kisses on the cheek.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
In addition to a moderate amount of profanity ("f--k," "crap," a--hole," "bulls--t"), Muslims are routinely subjected to hate speech (for example, "The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.") and called terrorists, "Muslim scum," "rag heads," "camel jockey," and "rag head skittle."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
Teens talk about watching the movies Almost Famous and All the President's Men and eating M&Ms.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mention that a teen smells of stale cigarette smoke.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know Samira Ahmed's Hollow Fires, is a gripping and timely thriller with a powerful message about the dangers of racism and hate speech. When 14-year-old Jawad Ali brings a homemade cosplay jet pack to school, his teacher assumes that because he's Muslim it must be a suicide vest. She calls the police and Jawad is arrested as a terrorist -- an arrest that will lead to his kidnapping and murder. Safiya Mirza is the editor of the school newspaper at Chicago's elite DuSable Prep, and she's determined to find Jawad's killer. A killer she's comes to believe is a fellow student and secret white supremacist. As for violence, Jawad's ghost describes of his kidnapping and murder but not in any graphic detail, and a girl fights off two boys attempting to kidnap her. There's some strong language ("f--k," "crap," a--hole," "bulls--t"), and Muslims are routinely subjected to hate speech and called terrorists, "Muslim scum," and "rag heads."
Where to Read
There aren't any parent reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.
What's the Story?
HOLLOW FIRES is told in the voices of Jawad Ali, the 14-year-old son of Iraqi immigrants who's been kidnapped and murdered, and aspiring journalist and high school senior, Safiya Miza. When Jawad brings a homemade cosplay jetpack to school, his teacher alerts police that he's brought a bomb to class and he's arrested as a suspected terrorist. He's released, but he's soon labeled in the media as "Bomb Boy." A few months later Jawad disappears and is never found. Safiya edits the newspaper at DuSable Academy, an elite private school in Chicago where she's a scholarship student. When her "Be the Change" column for the school newspaper is hacked by a racist using the name Ghost Skin, the principal accuses her of being behind the hack and refuses to even entertain the idea there might be White supremacists in the student body. But Safiya's pretty certain she knows at least one, a classmate named Nate, who has a YouTube channel about birding and is the son of a powerful local politician. Safiya begins to hear messages from Jawad's ghost, asking for her help and directing her to where his body is buried. When she finds his body and evidence she thinks will lead to the killer, the police give her the brush off. So it's up Safiya to find his murderer.
Is It Any Good?
Not only a first-rate thriller, this novel also presents a challenge to readers to speak out against racism and prejudice in their schools and communities. Hollow Fires is intense, and readers should be prepared for a storyline filled with disturbing and sometimes shocking instances of hate speech and Islamaphobia.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what Hollow Fires taught them about how important it is to know the difference between facts and "alternative facts." When you want to know more about something in the news, how do you make certain the information you're reading or hearing is accurate?
If there's a racist incident at your school, how is it handled? Do you think more can be done to ensure your school is a safe place for everyone?
Does freedom of speech mean that hate speech or a casual racist remark are OK?
- Author: Samira Ahmed
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Activism, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Empathy, Integrity
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publication date: May 10, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 17, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Read
Our Editors Recommend
Thriller Books for Teens
Books with Muslim Characters
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate