By Samira Ahmed
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From bestselling author Samira Ahmed comes a thrilling fantasy adventure intertwining Islamic legend and history, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the Land of Stories.
On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.
Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.
The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…
When You Wish upon a Star
I DON’T BELIEVE IN WISHES.
Wishes are for little kids and old-timey cartoon princesses and people who think a star in the night sky is actually a twinkly, enchanted jewel and not just a hot, glowing ball of gas.
I wasn’t always like this. I used to make wishes when I blew out my birthday candles. And, maaaaybe, I still throw pennies into fountains (but I swear it’s only for very special occasions). And if I ever see an actual shooting star and not a bright speck of light that turns out to be an airplane in Chicago’s night sky, I might make a wish on it, because—hello!—seeing a shooting star in a city full of light pollution would basically be a miracle. But otherwise, I’m declaring that in this, my twelfth year of being alive, I am giving up on hoping and dreaming too hard for impossible things. Officially, precisely, this new life plan began yesterday afternoon at three PM, when I failed my karate test. Again.
This is the slow-motion rewind that’s been looping through my brain every minute since then:
I tighten my yellow belt before stepping onto the mat. A mustache of salty sweat paints my upper lip. Sensei approaches, towering above me, eyebrows furrowed. “Focus, Amira. You got this. Third time’s the charm.”
I cringe. I’ve been trying to forget my other two failures to advance to orange belt. Ignoring my wobbly knees, I walk to the center of the mat and come eye to eye with my opponent. Or rather, eye to hairline, since I’m almost a full head taller than the little nine-year-old in front of me. Her hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail wrapped with a pink glittery bow. I got this. I smile. She scowls back. I swear she almost snarls.
It’s the longest three minutes of my life.
“You hesitate, Amira. You make it too easy for your opponents to block you,” Sensei told me after my humiliating defeat. “Attack. Imagine yourself defeating them.”
“But how? How can I imagine something I can’t do?” I asked.
Sensei gave me one of his enigmatic smiles. “Stop being scared of your own power. You have the tools, but you need to believe here and here.” He pointed to his chest, then tapped his head.
It’s the same old, out-of-tune song every adult sings: Believe in yourself. Fine. Okay. I do. My life is a believe-a-palooza. So why isn’t it enough?
So, no more wishes on pretend stars. Technically, real stars are blazing spheres of plasma held together by gravity, which is not that different from us, really. I’m not giving up on those actual stars. Or the planets. Or the endless mysteries of the universe that I want to solve. Science is real. And failing is built into it. The scientific method expects failure. And failure is something I can succeed at.
Every evening this summer, I’ve hauled my telescope onto our roof-deck, taking notes on whatever celestial bodies I could find. Chicago’s night skies are not the best for spotting constellations. But I did spy Mars once—a glowing red dot above the roofs in our Hyde Park neighborhood. Mostly, though, I study the moon—its craters, its bumps and bruises, its phases, how sometimes it looks like a wink and other times a sad, old face, full and hazy, low on the horizon over Lake Michigan. The moon is Earth’s BFF. A friend we can count on to always be there.
All this lunar prep has been in anticipation of tonight. My single chance to experience a once-in-a-century, once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon: a supermoon, a blue moon, and a blood moon. All in one night. A celestial trifecta of awesomeness. An eclipse on the second full moon of the month while the moon is closer to us than at any other time in its orbit. It even looks red, hence the blood part. Personally, I think blood moon sounds a little gross, but it’s not like I named it. Anyway, some ancients thought this rare event predicted the end of the world; some of them thought it gave people indigestion. Whatever it brings on, I am beyond excited. I may be full-on skeptical about the magical idea of believing in wishes, but the magic of science is real.
Please Do Not Touch (I Mean It!)
“I WILL ANNIHILATE YOU!” I SCREAM AS A VOLLEY OF SMALL foam darts bounce off the back of my head. “Why did you bring that stupid gun to an eclipse-viewing party?” I growl at my younger brother, Hamza.
Hamza shoves his neon-green plastic toy into his backpack. “It’s not a gun. Duh. It’s a zombie bowcaster, and I hacked two different weapons to build it. It’s genius.”
“You’re not going to be battling zombies for a telescope,” I say.
“No,” he says, “I’ll be battling nerds, like, I dunno? My sister? Who dragged me away from a critical point in my Lego Millennium Falcon build to come see a bunch of used tools that belonged to dead Muslim astrologers.”
I elbow him. “Dude, it’s astronomy, not astrology. You know the difference, right?”
Hamza scoffs. “I totally know the difference.”
“Oh yeah, what is it?”
He pauses for a second before answering. “One is about the study of the stars and planets, and the other is about… well… it’s the study of the stars and planets but with zodiac symbols.” One thing I sometimes kind of admire about my little brother—he never lets not knowing something prevent him from acting like he does. (But other times, it can be super annoying.)
“Ugh. Read a book, Hamz.”
“That’s enough, you two.” Ummi whips her head around to deliver her Death Stare™. We had parked the car, and Ummi and Papa were walking ahead of us on the sidewalk, their arms linked, so they didn’t catch Hamza’s foam-dart assault. Since kindergarten, that look of hers has always stopped me cold, made me apologize for things I hadn’t even done. But for some reason, it never works on Hamza. My dad once joked that my brother was made of Teflon, because everything slides right off him, especially rules and consequences. I kinda wish I was that way, too. But then again, my mom won’t cook anything on a nonstick Teflon frying pan because she says it’s toxic. So I guess there’s that, at least.
“You know, there’s this old desi legend Nani used to tell me and your auntie.” My mom lowers her voice, making us hurry to catch up. “Bickering siblings must resolve their feuds or disputes before an eclipse passes. Or else.”
“Or else what?” we respond in unison.
Ummi shrugs and exchanges one of those smiles with Papa—a parent-know-it-all grin annoying to kids across the world. Papa bends down and kisses her on the cheek. He’s a foot taller and towers over our mom, but somehow she never seems small.
Papa turns, raises an eyebrow at Hamza. “I wouldn’t pick on your sister if I were you; she could knock you out with a couple of well-timed karate blows.” I wince a little when Papa mentions karate.
“The Dojo Koan says she can use her karate only for the greater good,” Hamza says, as if I need reminding about the oath I take every class.
“Trust me, little brother, kicking your butt would be for the greater good,” I say, while my parents try to hide their laughter.
Hamza is, well, Hamza. He has been since birth, so I’m not going to let his Hamza-ness ruin tonight. I’ve been counting down the days since the Islamic Society of Ancient Astronomy announced this exhibit to coincide with its eclipse-viewing party. There’s this medieval astrolabe made by al-Zarqali of Andalusia that is traveling to the United States for the first time. Ever. In, like, a thousand years. And I get to see it tonight. On the same night as the super blue blood moon. My nerd brain is ready to explode with excitement.
We stop in front of the Medinah Temple—a squat, ornate building crowned by two domes that supposedly look Middle Eastern, I guess? Every time I pass it, it always feels out of place amid the towering glass downtown skyscrapers. Papa once explained that it was constructed over a hundred years ago in a mash-up of different Islamic architectural styles—lots of intricate, floral-patterned grilles and geometric shapes. And even though Arabic script frames the giant entrance, it wasn’t built by Arabs, North Africans, or Muslims, but by white Shriners. Or, as Ummi calls them, “people who freely appropriated other cultures and were probably wildly racist.” The building was actually going to be demolished, but a year ago an interfaith nonprofit bought it to try to build something diverse and inclusive in a space that was once anything but.
As we enter the building, Hamza cranes his neck to glance upward at the calligraphy framing the doors. “What does the Arabic say again?”
I know the answer, but I’m distracted by the moon, which seems unusually luminescent in the not-quite-night sky. I check my watch. The time seems off. We shouldn’t be able to see it like this, not yet.
“There is no God but God,” our mom replies. “The start of the Shahadah? I can see those years of Islamic Sunday school have really paid off.” Can a voice sound like a raised eyebrow? If so, that’s what my mom’s voice is right now.
I turn my attention away from the moon and to my family. “Can you imagine if actual Muslims wanted to build a building with the declaration of faith carved into it anywhere in America right now? People would totally say it was, like, terrorist headquarters.”
My dad puts an arm around my shoulder and squeezes. “You’re probably, right, kiddo. I wish it weren’t true. I wish I could snap the racism out of this world. But you know you are loved, and you are enough, and the bigots of the world don’t get to define us.”
“Snapping away racists would have been an awesome use of the Infinity Stones!” Hamza says.
I shake my head a little, then look up at my dad and give him a small smile.
As we step through the entrance and into a grand hall with an enormous rotunda, we are greeted by a life-size wooden statue of a brown-skinned man in painted robes and a turban holding a flute close to his mouth. Hamza reaches out and pulls a lever next to the machine before any of us can stop him—if there is a button to be pushed or a lever to be pulled, count on Hamza to do it. The statue’s arm jerks upward, bringing the flute to its lips. Hamza and I both hop back in surprise. A hissing steam sound comes from inside, and a bright note soars out of the flute. The statue proceeds to play a short tune before stopping.
Our mom claps her hands. “How delightful.” Then she reads out loud from the plaque at the foot of the automaton. “It’s based on a design from the Banu Musa’s Book of Ingenious Devices. They were brothers who were inventors and astronomers from the ninth century. It’s likely the first programmable machine.”
“Whoa. That is actually really cool,” Hamza says, his mouth hanging open.
“Dude, shut your mouth. I can see bits of candy bar stuck in your molars. Gross.”
Hamza play-punches me in the arm, and I retaliate, perhaps a little stronger than necessary. “Ow!” Hamza yelps. “Mom, did you see that?”
“Shhhh. You two. What did I tell you about the omen of bickering siblings? Don’t make me unretire the get-along T-shirt.” I can’t believe she’s threatening us with the consequence-of-last-resort so soon in the night. The get-along T-shirt is one of her proudest creations—a sewing machine Frankenstein’s monster of two XXL white undershirts with two heads but also only two armholes. In first and third grades, Hamza and I would fight all the time, so Ummi would make us wear the joint shirt until we at least pretended to like each other.
We separate, and I head toward a display called Bayt al-Hikmah, or House of Wisdom. The placard says it was an institute for scholars and inventors in the eighth century in Baghdad. I scan the ancient, yellowed documents, and my eyes stop on a page of Arabic writing and what seem to be some calculations—Kitab al-Jabr—the book of al-Jabr, the father of algebra. “Al-Ja-br,” I sound out the name. “Al-ge-bra. No. Wait. Whoa! I could totally use this guy’s help in math next year,” I say aloud, and snort to myself.
I look up to make sure no one—especially not Hamza—heard me say that. God, I am a nerd. But Hamza’s attention is absorbed by a spherical astrolabe—a brass globe with metal bands around it. I hear him mutter something about Magneto and reversing Earth’s polarity. I shake my head. The kid is superpower obsessed.
I see my parents and some other adults heading for the roof, and I quickly join them. There’s a tutorial on the use of the telescopes, and I don’t want to miss anything. The telescopes we are using tonight are way more sophisticated than what I have at home. I practically float up the stairs. I wonder if this is what it feels like when adults say things like they’re giddy with excitement. People are going to write about this night in astronomy books. Everywhere, in every country, millions, maybe billions, of people are talking about tonight’s moon. And I get a front-row seat from the best viewing spot in this hemisphere.
The rooftop is packed with people, and we’re all crowding toward the stage, where a round-faced, smiling auntie in a dark blue hijab decorated with constellations is welcoming us. My mom leans over and whispers in my ear, “Where’s your brother?”
My dad tilts his head toward the door and raises an eyebrow. A sign for me to go find Hamza. Ugh. “I don’t want to miss anything,” I protest.
“It’s okay, beta,” my mom says, squeezing my hand. “The director is going to say a few words before they start the tutorial. You’ll have time if you hurry.”
I groan, loud enough for both of my parents to hear. I did not sign up to be my brother’s babysitter. Especially for free.
I dash down the stairs back to the exhibit hall, which is pretty much empty now. I spy Hamza, bent over a small display case that is pushed up against the far wall as if a busy curator didn’t know what to do with it.
I trudge over but stop short. Hamza has his back to me, so he hasn’t seen me yet, but he’s glancing around suspiciously. And then he opens the case and reaches in to pluck something out.
“What are you doing?” I yell.
Hamza doesn’t react, gazing at the artifact in his hand.
I hurry to my brother’s side, ready to lecture him, but when I look at the small object in his hands, I’m transfixed, too. Drawn to it. It’s beautiful. “What is that?” I gasp.
“Al-Biruni’s Box of the Moon,” Hamza whispers back without taking his eyes off it. It’s round and shiny—like a polished, circular jewel box. Unlike everything else in this exhibit, it’s untarnished. It fits perfectly in Hamza’s cupped palm.
I quickly read the museum note attached to its case:
Built in approximately 1000 CE, al-Biruni’s Box of the Moon was a wonder of its time. Its golden gears replicate the positions of the sun, moon, and Earth. The Box of the Moon is considered an early analog computer. Recovered from an ancient shipwreck found in the Caspian Sea, the nature of the Box has baffled modern-day scientists because it was unaffected by the ravages of time or the corrosive effects of salt water. The alloys and materials used to make this miniature computer cannot be identified as any currently known to humans.
“They can’t figure out how to make it work,” Hamza says. “Serious bummer. Look at the tiny 3D moon, Earth, and sun—I bet they revolved around one another at some point. So awesome.” It’s weird, because I know he’s excited about it, but his voice sounds automatic, like he’s talking in his sleep.
I lean in to look closer. Hamza’s right. On top of the gears lies a flat disc with etchings around the perimeter—almost like a platform for the tiny spheres. The largest globe—the one in the center of the disc and about the size of a mini-Gobstopper—is the sun. Earth, an M&M, is about halfway between the sun and the edge. The moon, a micro-Altoid, is in Earth’s orbit.
I blink. Try to take my eyes off the Box, remembering why I came down here. We’re going to miss the telescope tutorial. “Hamz, you need to put that back now. Ummi says you have to come upstairs.”
“You go upstairs. I want to see if I can figure out how this works.” Hamza takes a half step away from me.
I move closer to him. I can’t explain why, but I want the Box. It feels like it’s mine. “You’re not supposed to take artifacts out of cases. I’m surprised alarms haven’t gone off.” I put my hand out.
Hamza shrinks back. I reach out. I know I shouldn’t grab it. My brain is screaming at me to be careful, that it’s a delicate artifact. But my hands act like they have a mind of their own and latch onto the Box of the Moon to snatch it away from Hamza.
“Let go!” Hamza yells.
“Give it! It’s not yours.”
We start a tug-of-war. What am I doing? I need to stop. Why can’t I stop myself? Hamza pulls in one direction, and despite knowing I shouldn’t, I jerk it in the opposite. I can feel my palms getting sweaty, and my face starts to flush. But I have to have it. I yank really hard but lose my footing, which throws Hamza off balance. Both of us fall down as the Box of the Moon—this ancient, invaluable object—arcs through the air and falls to the ground with a loud clatter as it skids across the floor.
The world screeches to a halt. My heart pounds in my ears. I shake myself out of my brain fuzziness, realizing what we’ve done. Even Hamza has to know how badly we’ve screwed up. I force myself to scramble across the floor and pick up the fragile, beautiful box with trembling fingers. I can’t tell if Hamza is breathing. I can’t even tell if I’m breathing. I turn it over, terrified that all the gears and the tiny celestial objects will fall out or that they’ve been shattered. I’m too afraid to look, but there’s no other choice. We can’t exactly pretend this didn’t happen. There are probably security cameras in here.
But not only is everything intact, the gears are moving. The mini-Altoid moon is orbiting the M&M Earth.
Holy Newton’s first law.
This thing hasn’t worked for centuries, and now it’s moving? I remember the stories Nani used to tell us—about how things would move around the veranda of their house in Hyderabad. How her mom thought it was jinn playing funny tricks. Goose bumps pop up all over my skin.
All the color drains from Hamza’s face. He has to be thinking of the same story. He scooches closer to me and grabs the Box from my hands. “Maybe… we fixed it?” he says. “I’ll put it back in the case. It’s fine.”
“What is wrong with you? You can’t put it back without telling an adult what happened! We dropped an ancient artifact and probably wrecked it. I’m going to tell Ummi and Papa.” I jump up and run for the stairs.
“Wait! Stop!” Hamza chases after me, but I have too big a lead and longer legs and can take the stairs two steps at a time.
I shove open the door and am blinded by a flash of crimson light. As I stop at the threshold and raise a hand to shield my eyes, Hamza charges into me. We both stumble onto the rooftop.
I open my eyes. It’s dark as midnight.
All the adults are staring up at the sky, and none of them are moving.
The world around me slows down, like a scene in a movie when you know something terrible is about to happen but you can’t stop it. I hear the muffled thud of my heart in my ears. I see my mom and try to get to her, but my limbs don’t respond to my screams telling them to move. I call her name, but I can’t even tell if any sound comes out of my mouth.
My mom turns her head toward me, her mouth open and her eyes wide. She smiles, but there’s no comfort in it. Before I can scramble up, her knees buckle, and every single person standing there faints. But instead of collapsing like sacks of potatoes, they all gently fall to the floor of the roof like feathers wafting through the air.
The world jerks back to full speed. “Ummi! Papa!” I scream. I run and kneel by my mom’s side, grabbing her wrist with my panicky fingers, feeling for a pulse like we learned in health class. Letting out a breath when I find one. “Ummi! Ummi! Wake up.” Tears fill my eyes as I shake my mom’s shoulder, then my dad’s.
Is this a dream? This must be a dream. Because it can’t be real.
“Amira—” Hamza pulls on my arm. “Amira.”
“Hamza, run inside and find help. No. Wait. Grab Papa’s phone and call 911.”
“Stop talking and do what I say!” I yell at my little brother.
But as I look up at him, I notice what he’s staring at.
I tilt my head up toward the dark sky. A feeling like ice spreading under my skin makes me shiver. I stand up, and Hamza steps up next to me. A vise squeezes my heart.
A piece of the moon has cracked and is drifting away. It looks like it’s moving at a snail’s pace, but I know being able to see it move like that at all means it’s hurtling through the sky, growing bigger. God, it’s heading toward us. My eyes lock on the jagged puzzle piece of lunar rock, its edges slashing the night and making it bleed stars.
That’s No Moon!
WE NEED TO FIND SOME ADULT, SOME AWAKE ADULT, WHO can tell us what’s happening or… or… what we should do. But how can anyone possibly know what to do when the moon starts to break? I jerk Hamza’s hand and pull him past our parents, who are still unconscious with all the other sleeping people on the rooftop.
My brain whirs with a million terrified thoughts, but they all lead to this one: I have to get Hamza somewhere safe. And suddenly, I can focus. I drag him through the rooftop door, and we race down the stairs, bursting into the empty exhibit hall. Panting, heart racing, I pause for a second to look at Hamza, whose dark brown eyes are as wide as saucers. He’s clutching the Box of the Moon to his chest with one hand like it’s his favorite stuffie.
“Sis, what… what—”
“I don’t know,” I say. “But we have to find someone who does. C’mon.” I don’t want us to get separated, so I tighten my death grip around Hamza’s wrist and drag us outside to see if there’s, like, a cop or museum security. I’ll take a crossing guard if they could help us. But help us… what?
The small side street is empty. Of the conscious, anyway. People are everywhere, but it’s the same as on the roof, their bodies crumpled on the sidewalk in weird positions, like they’re action figures that got caught in a playtime tornado of nursery school kids.
The sudden dark is quiet. Too quiet. I look down the block toward the normally busy avenue, and every car is stopped. There’s no honking. No metal clank of wheels driving over uneven manhole covers. I don’t feel the rumble of the El train. And why are there no planes? Oh my God. What… happened to all the planes? I think for a second that this must be a dream—a nightmare—one that feels so real you can’t tell if you’re really awake when you wake up or if you’re waking up in the dream itself. But that broken piece of the moon, plunging through the blackness of space, looks like it’s getting bigger, which means it’s getting closer. Which means it’s on a collision course with Earth.
“Oh God. We’re going to die. This is how the dinosaurs went extinct,” Hamza whispers. “A massive meteorite smashing into the planet. Da—”
“Don’t you dare!” I turn to Hamza, my mouth agape. “You’re going to have to put a dollar in the swear jar when we get home.”
He rolls his eyes. “How was that a swear? I was about to say dang it, but you cut me off!”
I scoff. “You were so about to swear. I could tell.”
“Only you would care about swearing during the end-time. Even Cap swore in Endgame.”
“It’s not the end of anything. No one is dying, and… and… this…” I pause, searching for anything that sounds remotely possible. “This is probably from eating too many parathas.”
“You’re blaming Mom’s parathas for the apocalypse? When she wakes up, she’s totally sending you to boarding school in India.”
- On Sale
- Sep 21, 2021
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers