September 03


THE SECRET SKY by Atia Abawi – Review by Jillian Heise

Afghanistan. Tradition. Culture. Family. Forbidden love.

the secret sky

The Secret Sky showed up on my radar at NCTE when Atia Abawi’s editor, Jill Santopolo, handed it to me because she wanted me to read it.


“A tale of love, honor, and betrayal from foreign correspondent Atia Abawi.”


An indication that this was a book I needed to read. And once I started reading it, I just kept going. I was 150 pages into it by the end of the school day (admittedly my students got a little extra time to read in class because I was so into The Secret Sky that I lost track of our reading time). At that point, I was already tweeting that it’s incredible and you should get it on your radar. I finished it that night because I couldn’t stop until I knew how it ended.


“Fatima is a Hazara girl, raised to be obedient and dutiful. Samiullah is a Pashtun boy raised to defend the traditions of his tribe…”


This was before #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but we all had that sense that we do need them, right? I also knew that I needed ones that would engage my students and provide perspective on world events that are affecting them and their families today. This book does that through engaging writing while telling an intriguing story through three points-of-view with male and female voices.


“They were not meant to fall in love. But they do…”


You may think you know what this book is going to be about, but I’m not sure you can really know until you’ve experienced it. It’s the type of book that sneaks up on you and makes an impact before you quite realize what’s happening.


“A novel of forbidden love in Afghanistan.”


But it’s so much more than that. This is not just a Romeo & Juliet tale, this is a human story – the kind of story that will stay with you and beg you to revisit it and share it with others.


“And the story that follows shows both the beauty and the violence in current-day Afghanistan as Fatima and Samiullah fight their families, their cultures and the Taliban to stay together…”


But it’s not the typical war zone book, it’s so much more than that. Abawi has written an incredible story of the intersection of love and culture and family and trust told in a beautiful landscape with tragic circumstances.


“Based on the people Atia Abawi met and the events she covered during her nearly five years in Afghanistan, this stunning novel is a must-read for anyone who has lived during America’s War in Afghanistan.”


There is a truth in Abawi’s storytelling and depiction of these characters that conveys an affection for the people and the culture and the land, and a hope for a better future.


The Secret Sky is a strong YA debut novel telling a side to a story many won’t have heard before, and it’s one that I’ve been recommending non-stop since I read it. This is one book I hope all high school teachers will add to their classrooms and share with their students. For some, this might just be the story that opens their eyes to a world beyond what they experience.

Jillian Heise is a National Board Certified middle school language arts teacher allowing her to discuss thoughts about books with real teen readers, and all-around awesome 7th & 8th graders, every day of the school year…as part of her job.  [Fun fact: Her adolescent career dream was to be a foreign correspondent – she first majored in broadcast news at Ohio University.] Her students are used to her sharing her reading life, book recommendations, appreciation for rockstar authors, and love of fictional characters with them. Heise Reads & Recommends is her blog where she shares her book recommendations beyond her classroom walls. Jillian is a self-admitted book pusher with towering TBR stacks and does not feel the need for a program to change that. On twitter, she is @heisereads and is always happy to recommend a book to any reader in need.