Erin Entrada Kelly
HarperCollins, 2019 384 pages
Lalani is a tween girl living on the pacific island of Sanlagita in an undisclosed ancient time. Her small village is superstitious and male dominated. Lalani wields no power, nor is noticed or respected. She loves tales and enjoys the stories shared by her best friend's mother, especially since her own mother is too busy working and trying to please her abusive husband to tell stories. When a terrible drought hits the village, threatening to ruin the crops, the people get desperate. Lalani finds herself quite by accident away from the village and up Mount Kahna, where villagers do not travel. She meets a mysterious horned man who grants her a wish. She wishes for rain in order to save the village. Upon return, Lalani sees that her wish has come true--only the rain will not stop, threatening to flood the village and wipe out the crops. The villagers blame Lalani and point fingers at her and demand punishment. To make matters worse Lalani's beloved mother is sick and close to death. She decided to go on a dangerous journey, like many dead Sanlagitian men before her, in order to save the village and her mother. What follows is Lalani's dangerous and mystical journey to the neighboring island of Isa where surprises, magic, and adventure await.
Based on Filipino Folklore, Kelly infuses this narrative with mythological creatures, who enjoy sub-stories of their own. These stories, illustrated by Lian Cho, are framed and typed in a different font in order to differentiate them from the main narrative. The book begins with a map--hinting to the reader that this is a serious story. It certainly is. Though beautifully written, the book is dense and a bit too rich for the average young reader. I found it to be too heavy for my tastes; yet do appreciate the excellent writing. Kelly maintains a storytelling voice throughout the book and even the ragged edges of the pages suggest a much older tale than one written in the 21st century. Lalani is a character to be admired and young female readers will be inspired by her courage, wit, and determination. A male friend also serves as an inspiration, as he learns what it really is to be a man and how to stand up to the bullies and do the right thing. The mythical characters are interesting and new to me, the setting is realized and lush, and the plot is a classic adventure tale featuring an unlikely protagonist. This book is sure to win awards, it may, however, be a bit too much for young readers and struggle with finding an audience. Hand to super-smart kids, who like to escape into distant worlds and aren’t afraid to work for their story.