Interview: Atia Abawi, author of The Secret Sky + a Giveaway!

Today I'm thrilled to welcome Atia Abawi, author of The Secret Sky, to the blog. If you're looking for diverse settings, cultures and characters in your YA reading, this is a great book for you! It's a story that's sad and heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful.

First, here's a little about the book and about Atia, and then we'll get to my questions.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
Published by Philomel on September 2, 2014

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.

About the author: Atia Abawi spent almost five years as a foreign correspondent in Kabul and based these characters and this story on people she met during her work there. Born to Afghan parents in West Germany and raised in the United States, Atia currently lives in Jerusalem with her husband, Conor Powell.  You can follow her on Twitter @AtiaAbawi.

Atia has made several YouTube videos on young love in Afghanistan, her personal connection to The Secret Sky, and the message of The Secret Sky.

Jen:  Hi Atia -- welcome to the blog! Thanks so much for agreeing to answer a few questions about your work and your book.

Atia: Thanks for having me!

Jen: You travel around the world as a foreign correspondent for NBC News. What prompted you to write a novel, and how did you find time to do that?

Atia:  It has always been a dream of mine to write a novel and when I had the chance I ran with it. I’ll admit it was difficult to transition from reporting news to using my imagination but it was an amazing experience.

Finding the time was not easy. I could not write while I was working, my brain could not handle a transition from news to novel. The book was written during vacation time. There were times my husband would make me sit at the hotel desk and type for two-hours before I could enjoy the time away from a war zone. 

Jen: You were raised in the United States by Afghan parents. What were some of your favorite books when you were a teenager?

Atia: As a pre-teen I loved R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series. And I still love the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – admittedly that followed me through young adulthood. 

I also read pretty much anything that Oprah recommended in her book club ☺

Jen: In your introduction to The Secret Sky, you explain that you based Fatima and Sami’s village on a real place that you visited in 2005. Can you tell us a little about Ajristan and its residents?

Photo from Atia Abawi's Facebook
Atia: Ajristan is one of the most beautiful places I had ever laid my eyes on. The landscape is breathtaking but it was the people that really captured my heart. The kindness I witnessed there was like nothing I had experienced before. I was shocked at how open and honest they were in sharing their hopes, fears, and dreams to a complete stranger from a different world. They always insisted on feeding me when they barely had enough to feed their own families. 

Photo from

The kindness and love I witnessed from all made it so hard to say goodbye. I knew deep down, I would likely never see them again. I even cried when I was hugging the women goodbye. That’s when I noticed that my emotions caused even the men to turn their gaze – because my tears were apparently contagious. The same men who many in the world would judge by the appearance of their turbans and beards – were some of the softest and kindest ones I had met in all my travels. 

Another thing I cannot forget about Ajristan is the water from the shallow river and streams they have there. I touched on it in the book. It was this cold sweet water that really drove my taste buds to dance. It’s hard to explain how water can be delicious – but it was the most delicious water I have ever had in my entire life. 

Photo from
Jen: As a parent, I found Fatima’s mother to be such a sad and complicated character. Can you talk a little about writing her character, and about the challenges involved in being a woman in Afghanistan?

Atia: I wish I could say that it was hard writing her character but it was not. Mainly because in my time in Afghanistan as a journalist I witnessed far too many injustices – primarily directed at women and children, and often by family members. The country is still considered the most dangerous place to be a woman. A United Nations statistic says that 90% of women suffer some sort of domestic abuse – most women’s shelters will tell you that figure is too low. 

To be born female in Afghanistan today is to be dealt a very challenging card. The world really is against you there. It is a place where a woman can be raped and then killed by her family for the shame and dishonor it brings them. Honor killings are common practice and with some families the slightest offense is seen as dishonorable.

And it is not just men who are behind the abuse. Often times you will see women torturing women. I witnessed this myself and it was infuriating. In fact, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was little help during my time in Afghanistan. I heard story after story of women going there for help only to be beaten by female employees that worked there and told to go home to their families and stop complaining.  

Jen: The ending of The Secret Sky is fairly resolved, yet I saw a few people on Goodreads asking about a sequel. Will there be one, or are you working on anything else?

Atia: It is always a possibility ☺ I am not currently working on another book at the moment but I would love to in the near future. I am now living and working in Jerusalem and always looking at the complexities of life here.

Jen: Wow -- Jerusalem sounds like a fascinating setting for a future book! Thanks so much for stopping by!

Atia: Thank you!

Thanks to Atia's publisher, Philomel, I have a copy of the book to give away to a US resident. Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. That interview was so great. Her stories about the women make me so very sad. Her trip to Ajristan sounded fantastic, and her description about leaving almost made me a bit teary. Thanks so much for sharing this. It was just such a great post!

  2. This sounds like a really great book. I'll definitely check it out because I'm curious to see how author, as outsider, represents completely different culture.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I love seeing pictures from around the world.


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