I know I don’t read middle grade books at all but I still should have trusted the judgment of my dearest friend Nandini when she said this book was brilliant…. because my lovely fellow bloggers, this book really is. After my not so great experiences with Roshani’s writing before (except TGW), I expected this one to be fun and maybe a bit youngish for my tastes, but I didn’t think I would be so delighted and nostalgic.
The most intrinsic part of my reader self is that I think the Mahabharata is the best epic in the world, and any new book based on it has a potential chance to become a top favorite of mine. But it also means that I can be very nit picky and I might be upset with the way the authors interpret the epic. However, that’s not the case here. The way the author incorporates the story of the legendary Pandava brothers and other characters from Hindu mythology like Urvashi, Hanuman etc, some of the stories from the Puranas and the concept of Karma and reincarnation, is seamless and done with a lot of care and understanding of them. Hinduism is not a religion that is talked about a lot in international discourse and our diverse traditions and polytheistic beliefs can be a source of feeling othered or being made fun of outside of India. It’s not easy being an Indian American kid trying to follow your faith, but also struggling to explain to your friends that your religion and traditions are not wrong or weird. And that’s why this book is so special. Roshani writes a fun and entertaining adventure novel that is perfect for young teens and is such wonderful representation for Indian kids, who not only get to read about someone who looks like them but also read about the same stories they have grown up listening to. The author also makes sure that any mythological elements in the story are very accessible to readers who are new to the Hindu epics, the pacing is perfect and action packed, and the quest that the characters go on is pretty high stakes and keeps us on our toes throughout the book. The writing is also completely witty and hilarious and I couldn’t stop grinning and laughing all the way. As someone who really couldn’t get through the author’s lyrical writing style in her YA novels, the simpler language in this book felt perfect for me and I will definitely be continuing this series.
Aru is such a realistic pre teen character. All she wants is to feel accepted by her so-called friends at school, not be so different from everyone, and maybe have her mom pay more attention to her. She has a very active imagination, and she makes full use of it to lie and tell stories to get out of tricky situations or make others like her. She is a good person, but obviously too young to understand long term consequences of her actions. However, she is all in to accept her destiny and go on this quest to save the world and her mom. Mini, her soul sister, is a very smart, loves reading medical books already, is allergic to almost everything under the sun and loves reciting all the ways in which they can die. Mini is also half Indian half Filipino (just like the author) and her trying to navigate both sides of her heritage while not offending her extended family felt very heartfelt. These two girls, with their smarts and cunning, make for a formidable team and complemented each other very well. This story really symbolizes girl power and how important it is for young girls to support each other. They are also wonderfully supported by the grumpy talking pigeon Boo, whose quips are the source for many laughs in the story. We also meet a lot of other small characters during their journey and I loved every one of them, including the villain. My particular favorite is actually not a person, but this one lonely “thing” was absolutely adorable and I hope we will get to meet again.
If you love middle grade adventure novels, especially Percy Jackson, I highly recommend this book to you. If you want a wonderfully diverse fantasy which draws its inspiration from the Mahabharata and other stories from the Hindu mythology, then this book is perfect for you. This will entertain you, make you laugh and cry and think, and will ultimately take you on a breathtaking journey.