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HOLLOW FIRES by Samira Ahmed.jpgTeen All Iowa Reads Program Resources

The 2024 All Iowa Reads selection for teens is Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed.

About the Book

Safiya Mirza dreams of becoming a journalist. And one thing she’s learned as editor of her school newspaper is that a journalist’s job is to find the facts and not let personal biases affect the story. But all that changes the day she finds the body of a murdered boy.

Jawad Ali was fourteen years old when he built a cosplay jetpack that a teacher mistook for a bomb. A jetpack that got him arrested, labeled a terrorist — and eventually killed. But he’s more than a dead body, and more than “Bomb Boy.” He was a person with a life worth remembering.

Driven by Jawad’s haunting voice guiding her throughout her investigation, Safiya seeks to tell the whole truth about the murdered boy and those who killed him because of their hate-based beliefs.
This gripping and powerful book uses an innovative format and lyrical prose to expose the evil that exists in front of us, and the silent complicity of the privileged who create alternative facts to bend the truth to their liking.

Book Discussion Questions

  1. Hollow Fires is told through various forms of media: interviews, articles, transcripts, etc. How does the way you receive information affect how you process it?
  2. Each chapter opens with a set of facts, truths, or lies. How do characters lie and manipulate the truth in both small and large ways? How can you determine the truth from among different sources? 
  3. What is the responsibility of the press? Why are these ideas important?
  4. How do different characters conceive free speech? What role does anonymity play in the freedom of expression? Do you think people behave differently online and in person?
  5. Safiya’s newspaper column encourages people to Be the Change. How do Safiya and other characters work for change? What forms can activism take?
  6. Safiya and Asmad discuss the popularity of true crime. How does media coverage, including true crime narratives, impact victims and their families?
  7. Jawad says that “demons are everyday people” (pg. 253). How do characters hide their true selves? What coded language do they use to mask their beliefs and communicate among themselves?
  8. How does stereotyping people based on one trait dehumanize them and erase the true range of diversity within communities? How are different forms of bigotry (example: racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, antisemitism) linked?
  9. How do the characters experience systems of power differently? Can you work for change within these systems of power? How?
  10. If you could create a playlist for this book, what songs would you include?

About Author Samira AhmedSamira Ahmed-Photo-Credit-Erielle-Bakkum.jpg

Samira Ahmed is the bestselling author of Love, Hate & Other Filters, Internment, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Hollow Fires, and the Amira & Hamza middle-grade duology, as well as a Ms. Marvel comic book mini-series. Her poetry, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous publications and anthologies including the New York Times, Take the Mic, Color Outside the Lines, Vampires Never Get Old, and A Universe of Wishes. She has taught high school English in both the suburbs of Chicago and New York. Samira currently lives in the Midwest.

Image credit: Erielle Bakkum

Reviews and Interviews

Reviews and interviews with Samira Ahmed and other information about Hollow Fires:

  • “When high school freshman Jawad Ali, the son of Iraqi refugees to the U.S., crafts a model jet pack for Halloween, he’s excited to showcase the approved makerspace project to his classmates and teachers. But the things go badly wrong with the costume: mistaken for wearing “something like a suicide bomber vest,” Jawad is marched out in handcuffs and suspended from school. Then, after receiving a series of threatening texts, he’s murdered. But Jawad’s ghost remains, communicating with 17-year-old Indian American Safiya Mirza, an aspiring journalist who grows to believe in their connection, and whom he leads to his body in a neglected area of Jackson Park. Spurred on by his spirit, Safiya works to solve the murder, a journey that forces her to face dark truths about their community, in which a festering hatred has led to threats against her mosque. Writing in dual perspectives that highlight Jawad’s innocence and Safiya’s determination amid personal themes of romance and friendship, Ahmed (Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know) weaves evocative prose with images, articles, and text messages to explore with skill and depth the twining of social media in an age of misinformation, alt-right political movements, and racism and Islamophobia.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “Gr 9 Up—In this short-chaptered, dual-narrative exploration of the tragic confluence of Islamophobia and white supremacy, readers are privy to the diary entries of Safira, a young second-gen high school journalist's investigation into several hate crimes she thinks are connected: a cyberattack on the school newspaper, vandalism of her parents' Indian food store, and what's worse, a missing fellow high school student. Jawah, a 14-year-old child of Iraqi refugees is falsely accused of being a suicide bomber by a teacher after making a jetpack at the school's makerspace and is now missing. Jawah's chapters are brief attempts at directing Safira towards him and through his thoughtful recollections, readers slowly discover his truth. Introducing each chapter are statements in the form of facts, truths, and lies; interwoven are news reports, court briefings, police statements, blog posts, book  chapters, radio transcripts, and more. This page-turner is sophisticated and easy-to-digest, a difficult balance to achieve, but Ahmed is extremely adept at threading pieces of a murder mystery together within the greater context of how the media influences youth. The portrait of immigrant families, small business owners both, and the role that kindness plays in undoing the spectrum of hurt—from bullying to the adoption of Nietzsche-fueled white supremacy—perpetrated in a small-town setting makes this a must-read for patrons in libraries across the country. VERDICT This impassioned ride toward the truth, based on a true story, will make readers think about the media bites they consume and white youth's easy access to radicalization.” - School Library Journal (starred review)

  • We Need Diverse Books' Q and A with Samira Ahmed, Hollow Fires: May 10, 2022

  • Minorities in Publishing Interview with Samira Ahmed: May 31, 2022


  • School Library Journal Best Books of 2022
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2023

Other Readalikes For Further Reading: 

  • The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao
  • When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris
  • This Place is Still Beautiful by Xixi Tian

Find Copies of Hollow Fires to Borrow

Find out which Iowa libraries have copies of Hollow Fires to borrow, or find out how to request sets for discussion groups.

Find in Iowa Libraries:

Find on Bridges: Iowa's eLibrary:

Multiple Copies for Discussion Groups:​​​​​​