I apologize for the silence on my end, dear reader! There has been so much real life interfering with my writing of late (it turns out that I have a hard time writing with loud hammering and drilling sounds going on, among other things!) But I have been reading lots and hope to start to catch up here.
Here’s a start, with two stories mixing introspection, action, and dealings with the supernatural.
The Girl and the Ghost
by Hanna Alkaf. HarperCollins, 2020.
Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook
The old witch used the ghost she’d captured for curses and vengeance, making life miserable for villages without their knowing it, then taking their money to remove the curse before moving on. The ghost has always lived feeding (in small, ritual amounts) off her blood, so when she dies, he goes hunting for more, finding her small, joyous granddaughter.
That granddaughter, Suraya, grows up with the ghost as her best friend, naming it Pink for her favorite color when she’s 4. She lives alone with her mother, always too busy and stressed to be affectionate. But while Pink loves Suraya as much as a vengeful ghost-type can, Suraya isn’t interested in the kind of magic he does. When she makes her first good friend, Jing, in high school, Pink is terribly jealous. And when the trouble he makes gets bad enough that Suraya’s mother notices, the help she calls turns out to be even worse. Should Suraya try to help Pink or cut him loose?
This is the first book set in Malaysia I’ve ever read – the author lives there now, though I didn’t see any signs of this having been translated from another language. I appreciated the setting and magic (I have left out a good deal of the complexity of the many kinds of magical beings that show up in the story), and that it shows the diversity of Malaysia itself, not just in Suraya’s travels between the poor village by the rice paddies where she lives and the city where she goes to high school, but also between Muslim Suraya and Jing, whose religion isn’t specified but who seems to be of Chinese ancestry and talks about eating pork. This is a story of friendship, redemption, grief, and love of many kinds.
The Girl Who Lost
by Emily Ilett. Kelpies, 2020. ISBN 978-1782506072.
Read from library copy.
Newly 12-year-old Gail can’t even be excited about her birthday with everything else that’s going on – her father moving out and her big sister Kay, always before her closest companion, too depressed to leave her room. When Gail’s shadow wriggles away from her, and she sees that Kay’s shadow is also gone, Gail sets out on a hunt for it over, under, and around their tiny Scottish island. And while Gail’s grieving has made it hard for her to keep her friends, she makes some new ones on the hunt, including a red-haired younger girl named Mhirran who’s been trying to stop her brother’s shadow collecting, and an older boy named Femi who’s been leaving messages in drawings for Kay about the conservation work they’d been trying to do before she got sick.
The magical mixes with the mundane, and the larger world with the interior, as Gail realizes that she needs to realize who she is on her own to be able to help her sister, and that also gives her the strength to work to help the wildlife on and around the island.
This Scottish setting with magic and the closeness of the sea reminded me of The Turning by Emily Whitman, though while I loved both, The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow is a little more active and relevant, and about half the length, making it a much easier sell for most kids. I’ll be looking for more from this debut author.
These books have been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.
Stay healthy and keep reading!