This 245 page middle grade doodle filled novel features a Pakistani-British protagonist as she endures life with a family that yells, brothers that prank, aunts that meddle, and now a magical talking obnoxious stuffed llama. Yasmin Shah stopped speaking years ago, and a 10th birthday wish has brought about Levi, a llama who uses highly unconventional methods to help Yasmin stand up for herself and find her voice. At times funny, tender, and relatable, the book similarly often feels really forced as it relies on predictable jokes for cheap laughs: bum worms, wee wee taunts, the threat of being sent to Daadi in Pakistan as a punishment, bras and knickers being thrown around, etc.. The overall message is good and silly, and middle graders will probably feel some anxiety and frustration with Levi, but ultimately enjoy the book, and look forward to future books in the series.
Yasmin lives in a full loud home. It is her 10th birthday and she feels completely unseen. Her mom has made her a lovely cake, but when her brothers use pepper to make her sneeze, the cake gets destroyed and she once again meets the wrath of her family. She wishes she could stand up for herself, and just like that her life gets a whole lot crazier. A stuffed old stained llama she saw in the market and her aunt decided to gift her, has sprung to life and won’t stop talking. Levi seems determined to make Yasmin’s life even more miserable. He shows up in her backpack at school and his misguided help gets her detention, he doesn’t want her to be friends with the octogenarians she plays checkers with at the local senior center and embarrasses her and gets her banned, life at home is more miserable too as he takes revenge on Yasmin who keeps trying to get rid of him. At times it is hard to know if Levi is really trying to help and is just really misguided, or if he is out to get her. As Yasmin loses her elderly friends and the chance to be checkers champion at the OLD home, she slowly lets new kid Ezra wear her down and possibly be her friend. The climax reveals not just her voice, but a remorse for Levi that further helps Yasmin determine what her life will look like moving forward.
WHY I LIKE IT:
Antics aside, the story is about Yasmin being pushed/encouraged to be heard in her life. The jokes amplify the need for her to find her voice and defend herself, her love of the old people and determination to win the checkers tournament is endearing, and her struggles with kids her own age shows real heartache. I absolutely love Ezra and his mannerisms. He is new at school, trying to meet Yasmin where she is at, and encourage her all while trying to focus, channel his energy, and fit in as well. Yasmin’s family redeems itself and I think readers will get the exaggeration of much of the antics, but really Levi is annoying and while younger readers might find him hilarious and well-intentioned, I think anyone older than the intended audience will just want to strangle him.
The illustrations, the comic strips, and the little flourishes on the pages are wonderful. They bring the book to life and provide the charm and humor that the text needs to connect with the readers.
The only religious thing mentioned is Eid at the beginning. Some of the women in Yasmin’s family wear a scarf on their head and her teacher wears hijab, it isn’t mentioned in the text. I could not find if the author or illustrator identify as Muslim, I read that the author’s father is Pakistani so culturally and perhaps experience wise it is OWN voice, and reads with a lot of authenticity.
Possible verbal abuse, anxiety and bullying. Mention and illustrations of undergarments. Plotting and planning to harm/destroy a magical talking toy. Practical jokes, threats, lying, deception, back talking, deceit.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t think I’d use this as a book club selection as it is for younger children than middle school. But I think it is a fun book to have around the house and classroom for middle grade readers to pick up and chuckle over.