At 304 pages this middle grades fantasy OWN voice book attempts to weave together a granddaughters love for her Teta, with her adventures in a mythical world that only she can save. In much the same way of Narnia, or Gregor the Overlander, or even Alice in Wonderland, the book takes a realistic character and pushes them, in this case Samara aka Sami, just beyond, into a world filled with mystery, adventure, and lessons. The Lebanese flavor sprinkled in adds a little depth and uniqueness to the story, and aids a bit in the world building, but it isn’t a strong presence outside of ifrits and character’s names. Teta is a Beduin that has a prayer rug and tarot cards and a painting of the Virgin Mary that she calls Fatima, and Sami’s deceased dad was American and the house has Christmas lights. At one point the book remarks that Teta “likes to pick and choose her beliefs.” The premise starts with Teta showing signs of dementia: speaking in a language no one but Sami can understand, and not eating and seeming present, the resolution as a result could give children the wrong idea about treatments for such real conditions, and adults might want to make sure their middle graders wont be triggered by the decline of a loved one. The book is written well and holds reader’s interest, the world building is decent and the character’s relatable, I don’t know that it is overly memorable, but it is a fun light magical read with culture and family and friendship at its core that readers will enjoy.
Sami and her brother Tony, along with their attorney mom Alia and maternal grandmother, Serafina, have just moved to Florida from Ithaca, New York. The children’s father was killed and the family has moved a few blocks away from his sister to start anew. Sami is not settling in, and to make matters worse, Teta has stopped talking coherently, and Aunt Ivory and Alia are looking for a nursing home to place her in. For some reason though, when it is just Sami and her grandma, she can communicate just fine, and Teta tells stories of her adventures with her flicker Ashrafieh in Silverworld. Sami doesn’t necessarily believe the stories are true, but she gets the idea to use her Teta’s fairy stories to try and save her grandma, but when she finds her Teta’s spell book and peers into an old beloved mirror, Sami is taken to Silverworld and realizes that it is not just her grandmother’s future at risk.
In a world of flickers and shadows, Sami finds two balancers that taker her in and guide her: Dorsom and Natala. The world is a reflection of the Actual world, but the Shadow Nixie is consuming the land and taking prisoners. The balance is off, and Sami is convinced that this darkness is what is also harming Teta. Between shadow spies and giant rotifers, magic and prophesied destinies, Sami must push her fear away and accept that she can be the one to set things right.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that Sami has to step in to her own and fight for what she wants, even when she is afraid. I love the relationship she has with her Teta it is very warm and palpable. I feel like the “saving Silverworld will save her Teta thread,” however, is lost in the middle of the book, it might be the catalyst and might have worked out that way in the end, but I don’t know that the middle makes the case that the two efforts are one and the same. I appreciate that there are glimpses of Lebanon in the story with the athan in the background and spinning dervishes, but outside of Teta and a bit of the food, the cultural elements seemed a bit forced and deliberate instead of stemming from a natural flowing place. A bit odd since it is an OWN voice novel, but maybe I was just wanting more. I would have liked more information about how Teta settled in America, learned English etc., or about her tattoos and Beduin upbringing. Another thing that seemed off to me was the close relationship of Dorsom and Sami at the end. I hadn’t over nearly 300 pages realized that they were that much closer than Sami and Natala. I even went back to see if I had missed something, but I couldn’t find that I had. I wasn’t entirely sure why they were going to see Nixie either, I mean yes it was logical for they type of book it is, but I don’t know that Sami really had a plan for Silverworld or her Teta, she was just going to Nixie’s castle to get there. There were also a few inconsistencies such as Sami wishing her and Tony could go fishing or surfing, when the book has made it clear that Sami is afraid of the water, particularly the ocean.
There is magic, killing, death. There is talk of goddesses, there is a female character, a shadow, that has two flicker husbands and children with them both.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t think this would appeal to middle school readers, it is a solid middle grade book. I do think fourth and fifth grade shelves would benefit from having this book available to be picked up and enjoyed.