Scholastic, 2018 338 pages
Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series vol.1
Kiranmala's life is pretty ordinary. The daughter of immigrant parents from India, she helps them at their suburban New Jersey convenience store, hangs out with her best friend, and does her school work. That is, until her twelve birthday. Kiran arrives home from school to discover that her parents have disappeared and she is in grave danger from an evil rakkhosh (demon). Huh? Two handsome Indian princes with flying horses, straight from the Bangali folktales she grew up with, come to help her with the rakkhosh. After they defeat the evil presence the princes whisk Kiranmala to their mythological home on a quest to save her parents. Along the way many dangers lurk, new friends are made, and secrets are revealed. Kiran's parentage is not what she was raised to believe. She is actually of royal blood sent to New Jersey to hide from the rakkhosh and her evil biological father. Only her pedigree is not what is necessarily desired by Indian royalty. One of the princes is transformed by a rakkhosh to an immobile orb and as she and the other prince try to transform him back, all while tracking down her parents, a friendship grows with the potential for romance in the future. Riddles, puns, deceit, and adventure lead Kiranmala and her new friends deeper into India's mythological land. Kiran proves her bravery, intelligence, and strength as she battles foes and solves problems, finally fulfilling the quest and saving the day.
My favorite element of this story is that it features an Indian-American protagonist (a group grossly underrepresented in American children's literature) and draws on the rich cannon of Indian folklore. My second favorite element is that it starts in my neck of the woods in New Jersey, an area that seems to harbor the majority of America's population, yet is also underrepresented and often portrayed negatively in popular culture. It was fun to read references to real places such as Rockaway Mall and Route 46. I think this book, written by a debut author, has my favorite first line of the year: "The day my parents got swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension was a pretty crap-tastic day." How could you not keep reading? This line says it all about Dasgupta's writing style, which combines adventure, believable fantasy, and humor, all told in a conversational storytelling style. Kiranmala is a flawed, yet fearless heroine, who grows and matures as pages turn. Readers will enjoy spending time with her and her new friends. Readers will also enjoy the verbal sparring, love/hate relationship with the prince and will pick up the next volume to see where this relationship leads. Since Indian folklore is untapped in America, the gods, villains and setting were fresh and new to me, yet firmly grounded in tradition. In an author's note in the back Dasgupta offers explanations behind some of the Bangali folkloric elements used within the book and offers sources for further reading. Maybe after spending time with Kiran children will be encouraged to delve into the stories of their own cultures. A welcome new series that is sure to find readers, particularly fans of Rick Riordan.