Published by Rick Riordan Presents on March 27, 2018
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she'll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru's doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don't believe her claim that the museum's Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it's up to Aru to save them.
The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
Aru Shah is a liar, and I love her for it. A twelve year old girl who wants nothing more than to fit in in her middle school, Aru embellishes the truth when it’s convenient and manipulates the truth at times to make friends. She is not full of flowery, adult language and she often gets words wrong when she tries to define them in context. The only thing bigger than her imagination is her heart, and she spends this entire book wearing the same pair of Spider-Man pajamas.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Aru Shah reminds me, in many ways, of myself as a preteen. I remember wanting to be cool so desperately that I lied on the school bus and told my friend April that I had seen The Sixth Sense, even though I hadn’t because everyone else had. When they asked me to talk about a scene I’d seen in the film, I blanched. I still recall feeling that hot shame roll across my face like a tidal wave: a sensation I know Aru would understand intimately.
So when Aru lights a lamp that her mother has always made her promise to never touch, just on a dare to prove to her classmates that she can be cool after all, the world changes – the Sleeper is awakened, an evil man who will awaken Vishnu and bring forth the end of the days. Suddenly she is thrust into the world of Indian gods and goddesses, and learns she is a Pandava – basically, an Indian Power Ranger if the Power Rangers were also demigods.
There were five Pandava brothers in the legends she grew up learning, but little did she know that they were reincarnated, and that she was the latest iteration of one of them. And now, she has to put a stop to all of this destruction before the Sleeper gets a chance to annihilate everything Aru holds dear. She is joined primarily by another of the Pandava “brothers” – Mini, a young girl who is short in stature and big in mentality, who knows a little about everything and has a terrible fear of anything that could remotely harm or cause death. Together, they present enough oppositional force to make the dialogue snappy and fun, and the game we play alongside them delicious witty and clever.
The Bottom Line
Aru is flawed because she is human. I rarely see protagonists who are truly, intrinsically flawed, and it really heartened me to see Aru mature and progress through these difficult emotions, of just wanting to be liked, of fitting in. I personally don’t know a lot about 98% of the Indian deities, with an exception of the ones everyone knows (Vishnu, Ganesh, etc). This taught me a whole lot about the mythos of this incredibly deep, multi-faceted religion, and I loved every minute of it. These are not just a couple of kids herp-derping their way across the landscape to defeat evil, they are two nuanced children who have tempers, fight, get flustered and blustery. They lie, they screech, they throw things. They might be demigods, but damn it, they’re twelve. I love Roshani Chokshi for that.
If you enjoy Rick Riordan’s books and are looking for something a little different, pick this one up. It’s got girl power in spades, no insta-love or love interests (yay middle grade lit!), and best of all it’s an own voices story! I just adored this book, and I can’t wait to meet the other Pandava sisters in 2019.