Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Mwikali and the Forbidden Mask

Nguru, Shiko. Mwikali and the Forbidden Mask
11 October 2023, Lantana Publishing (Lerner)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Mwikali's mother has traveled around the world working for an airline, so she has attended many different schools. She is apprehensive about moving back to Kenya, where her mother is from and where she was born, although it's also a little bit of a relief to think that perhaps she will finally fit in somewhere. She is enrolled in the prestigious Savanna Academy and has an Auntie (a nanny) who gets her off to school when her mother has to travel for work, but she's still worried about an incident that occurred at her old school. Mwikali loves to draw and has a sketchbook that her mother gave her, but when she drew a picture of her best friend in the hospital, she ended up there in real life. Mwikali blames herself and is afraid to make other friends because of it. At school, she has an odd interaction with some of her classmates, who leave her a note that say "We know what you are."! Because she has already run afoul of a prefect, Charo, who has already caused her to miss her bus home, Mwikali is not in a rush to get to know Soni, Odwar and Xirsi. However, they tell her that she is descended from an ancient bloodline of legendary Kenyan warriors, the Intasimi, and that she doesn't cause things to happen by drawing them, but is just predicting what will be. The children have looked to Mr. Lemayian for help honing their powers. Mwikali is a seer, and the others have various supernatural gifts. When they realize that the Red Oloibon has been released and the only way to stop him from wreaking his evil upon the world is to find the Forbidden Mask and destroy it, the four are willing to try to accomplish this within the very small time frame they have, even though their powers aren't refined. In the process, Mwikali finds out about her grandmothers, father, and Kenyan heritage as well as some of the legends surrounding her powers. Will the four be able to save the world before nightfall?
Strengths: I love reading books set in other parts of the world and getting small details like bubblegum flavored milk boxes, Kenya's Jamhuri Day, and the public transportation. Mwikali's itinerant childhood and international upbringing will speak to some of my students who have a similar background and be a revalation to other readers who have never left Ohio. Her apprehension about her new school is realistic, but it's good to see that she quickly makes friends, and she remains positive. The fact that her powers and some needed artifacts were tied to her unknown family history added another layer of interest. 
Weaknesses: There was a fairly standard middle grade fantasy; children get powers in middle school and have to use them to save the world. I knew immediately who the villain would be. 
What I really think: This book is a good choice for readers who want to try fantasy books but haven't read too many of them, and who are interested in life in different parts of the world. Young readers who are just sure that they will soon get an invitation to hone their own magical powers, like the characters in  Clayton's The Marvelers, Dumas' Wildseed Witch, and Okogwu's Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun will root for Mwikali as she navigates a new middle school while saving the world! 

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