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?
As someone who reads middle grade frequently, I found it weird to not feel immersed into this world. From friends’ accounts this book sounds/reads/is basically a Percy Jackson book in terms of how the world is built, but the jolting from reality to fantasy and back made it too difficult for me to continue to believe its existence.
As a whole, I thought the story cute. Nothing remarkable, but definitely interesting. The Indian culture was a great twist, and I loved seeing all the creatures and gods. They were well developed and described well-enough that I understood the gist of it.
Aru Shah was a super cute character, though I found her whole revelation that “lying isn’t bad if I’m making up a fantasy to protect people” a little odd. It goes back to the age-old argument of if white lies are good or bad, but I thought it troubling that, in a children’s book, the main character is allowed to lie as long as it’s for a “good” cause. This brings in all arguments of morality and human beings.
Also, reading this, it was absolutely bizarre to have a whole scene where the reincarnation people started talking about Trump. I’m not going into politics, but it’d be the same thing if they had brought up Obama to make a political statement on the author’s views on that man. Why was it needed in a children’s book of all things? It was so out of place and, really people, it just adds to the hate already out there. Why.
Boo was my favorite character of the entire book. I pictured him as Zazu from The Lion King for the entirety of this novel. Mini was a saint. I freaking loved her and wish she had been the main character over Aru because I just have to many issues with Aru and her voice.
I’d recommend this to people who are fans of Percy Jackson who love stores like this, maybe to a few kids who I know love to be immersed in cultures. I won’t be continuing the series, though, as much as I hate to say it.