Force of Fire by Sayantani DasGupta

Cover image for Force of Fire

Force of Fire by Sayantani DasGupta (9781338636642)

The author of the Kingdom Beyond books returns with a stand alone novel set in the same universe. Pinki is the daughter of two of the most renowned rakkhosh members of the resistance to the take over of the Kingdom Beyond by the snakes. But Pinki resolutely refuses to join the resistance, focusing on herself instead. She is a rakkhosh who has fire magic but can’t control it at all. So when a handsome snake prince offers her a way to learn to control her fire, she agrees to find the hidden moonbeams for him. But the moonbeams are not what Pinki had thought they were. As she follows the trail to find the moonbeams, she finds herself learning about what the snakes are doing to people and children in particular, including one of Pinki’s own little cousins, who has lost the ability to speak. But can Pinki forgive her neglectful parents and find a way to embrace her fire and her heritage?

The world building here is marvelous, full of beings from Bengali folktales and stories. As they journey through cave complexes, into ornate palaces and beneath the sea, the entire landscape not only is revealed but becomes a large part of the story as it is impacted by the snake magic and decrees. Readers will also see ties to the Indian Revolution against British rule throughout the story, something that is mentioned in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. This use of a real tyranny as a basis offers a strong foundation for this fantasy to rest upon.

The characters are well drawn. Pinki in particular is a delight of a female character, full of pride in her largess, her horns and her talons, she also struggles to make friends and to rely on others for help. This is all made understandable as her personal story is revealed. She is a character who starts out as surprisingly selfish and steadily proves that she is not, again and again. With funny characters who add charm, like the egg-gifting little cousin, the book also has a lot of humor throughout to offset the darkness.

Fiery, fun and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar

Cover image of Ritu Weds Chandni

Ritu Weds Chandni by Ameya Narvankar (9781949528947)

Ayesha has been looking forward to the day of her favorite cousin’s wedding. Now it is finally here and her family is getting all dressed up to dance in the baraat. Tradition was that the groom brings the baraat to the wedding, so Ayesha’s parents are worried about what the response will be to Ritu leading her baraat herself. Once at the house, Ayesha discovers that many of her family aren’t going to attend the wedding, since it’s a marriage between two women. Soon the wedding procession began with Ritu on horseback, but they are met with anger and harsh words by the people along the route. People wanted to stop the procession, which was now silent and stifled. Even Chandni joining them could not lift their spirits when someone sprayed them both with water, ruining their outfits and hair. Ayesha could not stay silent, stepping forward to say that she wanted to dance all the way despite the angry people!

It is wonderful to see a book take a wedding tradition and show how a same-sex couple can make it work. This book doesn’t shy away from the fact that people’s attitudes have not changed about gay marriage, instead making it an opportunity to show exactly what being an ally looks like, especially if you are a child.

The art in this book has is a mixture of the flatness of folk art and a modern edginess that incorporates watercolor washes and vibrant colors. The deep reds of the wedding couple’s clothes, the golds of the bangles and backgrounds, the wash of teal water and leaves all combine into a vibrant world of love and standing up for acceptance.

Get ready to dance yourself with this LGBT picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Yali Books.

Review: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

my basmati bat mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Tara’s father is Jewish and her mother is East Indian, so Tara has mixed feelings about her upcoming bat mitzvah.  Some of the kids in her Hebrew class even wonder if she is actually Jewish at all.  Tara though is more concerned with whether she actually believes in God and if she doesn’t, does that mean that she can’t have a bat mitzvah?  She also worries about what celebrating this side of her family says to the other side.  So Tara decides to make sure that both sides of her family are represented by wearing a family sari that had been passed down for generations.  Unfortunately though, the sari is accidentally burned and Tara has to figure out how to tell her mother about it.  But that’s not the only complexity in Tara’s life.  Her best friend Rebecca seems to be spending more time with another girl, someone that Tara doesn’t get along with.  Her other best friend Ben-o seems interested in being more than friends sometimes but other times spends a lot of time with another girl.  It’s up to Tara to navigate all of the confusion and make her bat mitzvah her own.

Freedman very successfully tells the story of a young woman dealing with two distinct family heritages.  Happily, she doesn’t feel the need to build heightened angst about it, allowing Tara’s personal doubts to really drive this part of the story.  Her family around her does not have the same feelings, sharing holidays with one another and enjoying the same foods, most of the time. 

The book has a lightness of tone that makes the book very enjoyable.  Freedman explores bullying with a perfect touch, but less successfully explores the underlying issues.  Tara is a strong heroine who is far from perfect.  She has a temper, responds physically at times, and can be too self-absorbed to really see what is happening with her friends.

Hurrah for a book with a brown-skinned girl right on the cover that explores her multicultural heritage in such a straight-forward way!  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.