Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Pahua and the Soul Stealer

Lee, Lori M. Pahua and the Soul Stealer
September 7th 2021 by Rick Riordan Presents
ARC provided by the publisher

Pahua, her mother, and her younger brother Matt struggle to get by. Her father left years ago, and Pahua has never gotten a good explanation. Her mother has to work a lot, and much of Matt's care fall's to Pahua. She loves her younger brother, and doesn't mind taking care of him. She would almost rather do that than go to summer school, where she has to deal with mean girls like Hailey and Jocelyn. She has a run in with them, along with their friend June, who is new to their small Wisconsin town. June is nice, pronouncing Pahua's name correctly and calling out the other girls when they same unkind things, so Pahua agrees to go along when the group heads to a "haunted" bridge in the woods. The only problem? Pahua has long been able to see spirits, such as her best friend, a cat spirit she calls Miv (Mee). She has been keeping this from her mother, since her aunt, with whom her mother is at odds, is a shaman who will help people in their Hmong community who need help. Her mother also performs a few tasks as well, but doesn't believe Pahua when she mentions anything about the spirit world. When Pahua accidentally unleashes the spirit of a young girl on the bridge, she comes and takes Matt's soul back with her. Matt becomes ill, and while her mother tries to get him medical help, Pahua doesn't tell her about the spirit encounter. Luckily, Pahua meets Zhong, who becomes aware of the spirit activity and takes on the quest in order to pass her classes at the School for Shamanic Arts. Zhong is surprised at how well developed Pahua's talents are, and when the two must travel into the Echo, the spirit realm that mirrors the human world, the two find out why this is. In order to retrieve Matt's spirit, the two girls (accompanied by Miv) must seek help from a shaman in the Bamboo Nursery, consult the keeper of the Tree of Souls, and find the Lightning Axe that can be used on the bridge spirit. Along the way, they must fight demons, get to ride spirit horses, and find out the reasons behind Pahua's shamanic abilities. 
Strengths: As an older sister, I'm more than happy to read about younger brothers getting spirited off by demons, and this reminded me a bit of Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters in that respect. Pahua, however, actually likes her brother, and so is willing to enter a world with which she is unfamiliar in order to rescue him. I liked the fact that Zhong had a much better background in the spirit world, but Pahua had better skills, and that the two took a while to warm to each other. Miv was a great character, although after all the warnings about not trusting spirits, I was expecting him to somehow turn on Pahua in a devastating way. The details about the Hmong community, as well as Pahua's experiences in the small Wisconsin town, added an interesting layer to the story, and it was good to see that June reacted in the way tweens should act when they see someone being prejudiced and acting unkindly. There is plenty of action and adventure to keep fantasy fans turning the pages and learning about Hmong culture, religion, and folk lore. 
Weaknesses: I was glad that the forward recommended reading the end notes first, since being able to consult the glossary of terms and names was very helpful, and will let my readers know to do that as well.  Also, young readers should know that if a younger sibling gets abducted by evil spirits, LET AN ADULT KNOW! Of course, if the aunt had stepped in, the story wouldn't be nearly as interesting. 
What I really think: This is another great quest fantasy with many of the same elements of the Rick Riordan titles, but with interesting cultural connections to Hmong communities in the US as well as the folklore. The notes about the fluid nature of the stories, given their oral transmission, were helpful. Hand this to readers who enjoyed action packed, folk lore oriented books like City of the Plague God, Healer of the Water Monster, Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, or DasGupta's The Serpent's Secret. 

 We've been in school a month, and it's been... tiring. It's great to have classes back in the library, and circulation has been through the roof, but I've made the decision NOT to have student helpers. It doesn't seem right to put children in somewhat close contact with all of the other children. The students are good about wearing masks for the most part. I didn't realize how much I rely on student helpers. Not only did they handle check out while I was doing classes, but because the circulation desk is on the other side of a wall of windows looking into the cafeteria, I would sometimes take lunch in the faculty lounge, when there were no classes and the study halls knew to send only one student at a time. It's a CHOICE, certainly, but it's tiring. I should be able to do my job all by myself, right? At least I am getting dressed every day! 

1 comment:

  1. This book you reviewed seems complicated but should appeal to your students. In our school district, Annapolis, MD, students and volunteers are no longer welcome to checkout books. As a retired librarian, I will miss the volunteer job, so I will try volunteering at the public library to find book requests from patrons, checking off a list of desired books. So sorry you don't have a media assistant, which was a wonderful perk in my teaching world.