I’m really behind in my book reading lately, which is mostly due to my postcard making frenzy, which has slowed down a bit now (guess the “buzz” finally wore off) and also due to personal family business in late March and into early April. I only managed to squeeze out one novel, along with two picture books, which I thought were very interesting. More on those in a bit. For now, let’s focus on the book that I’ve been reading for the past 2 months.
The book I read is called Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher.
Title: Shadow Spinner
Author: Susan Fletcher
Genre: Children’s Historical/Folk Fiction
Pages: 217 (219 counting the Author’s Note Page)
The book is based on the One Thousand And One Nights or The Arabian Nights for the English translation, and has a single main protagonist, told from her perspective.
Marjan, a 13 year old orphaned Muslim girl living in ancient Persia, is taken into the Sultan of that land’s palace as one of his harem girls in order to help keep him entertained and to prevent him from killing his many wives every night, due to his initial distrust of them. Marjan finds herself aiding the sisters, Shahrazad and Dunyazad by helping them provide stories for the Sultan. In order to do this, Marjan ends up sneaking out of the Sultan’s palace (twice) to find an old storyteller that she remembers seeing before her entrance into the harem. The way that she sneaks out of the palace is pretty creative, despite the extreme danger of her getting caught.
I don’t want to give too much of it away, but thanks to the help of the old storyteller that Marjan meets in town, as well as inside help within the palace, namely the eunuchs, a very strange ‘pigeon woman’, and a few other minor characters, Marjan is able to turn the tables, so to speak, on the Sultan and is able to show him the error of his ways through one of her own stories. The penultimate chapter is a real page turner.
Overall, it was nice story. I really liked the main character, for her strength and bravery when all odds were basically against her (and having a deformed foot didn’t exactly help her). A lot of the other characters are likable and you will find yourself rooting for them to succeed, or at least hoping they come out okay, as you read the story. I won’t name them all, but some of the note worthy ones are Zaynab (the weird pigeon woman), who befriends Marjan and sort of becomes her “mother figure” as she was away from her adopted mother, being stuck in the palace and all. Abu Muslem, the old storyteller, was a pretty fun character I thought. For most of the story, he hid himself away and Marjan could only reach him by way of a boy named Ayaz, who happens to be the storyteller’s nephew. He (Ayaz) seemed to be quite the jester of the whole story as you are not quite sure of his motives at first and seems to enjoy toying with Marjan’s confusion and dire situation. But he was okay. I found that I really liked Dunyazad. She seems quite the cynical type (normally I don’t care for characters that are like this, but her character was written quite well) who seemed quite uncertain and untrusting of Marjan, believing that she couldn’t help her sister, Shahrazad, from stopping the Sultan’s murderous mania of killing his wives. But as the story progresses, you begin to see a lighter side to her and towards the end, she grows to respect Marjan and ends up helping her. So that’s pretty cool. The only character that I didn’t care much for is the Khatun, the Sultan’s mother. The author describes her as being extremely fat and extremely loud, who’s only purpose is really to intimidate and scare the women in the harem. While it can be implied that her reasons for her malicious behavior is because she wishes to protect her son, there also seems to be a more sadistic side of her that enjoys seeing those under her suffer. She especially gets a joy out of beating the crap out of Marjan later in the story. I was sort of hoping that she would get what she had coming to her in the end, but…
Like I said, this was a pretty nice story. For those who have read the actual One Thousand And One Nights stories can see how much of this story is based on them, I’ve only read part of them so I can’t be sure. But if anyone who has read them and wishes to give their input, I’ll be glad to hear it.
My only concern for this book is the “disappearance” of Marjan’s adopted family towards the end of the story. Marjan and her “aunt/mother”, seem to be quite close in the early parts of the story. But after Marjan moves into the palace, we never see her “aunt” and her husband again, though they get mentioned at the very end with Marjan worrying if she will ever see them again. Sort of a sad take on their part, but I guess not everyone can have a happy ending.
So my rating for this book is a 4 out of 5. Good story! It definitely makes up for the last book I read back in February and didn’t like too well.
And with that, I want to briefly talk about the two picture books that I mentioned earlier. Normally, I don’t review picture books on my blog and they don’t count towards my book count (only novels count). But these two books are great stories (especially for kids) and I wanted to present them.
The first one is called Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. Mckissack.
Those of you who have been reading the blog for a while will recall that I read a book by Mrs. Mckissack last year (April in fact!) called A Friendship For Today. You can see that review here. Though that one was one of her novels, this story is no less powerful for a picture book. It’s about a young girl, ‘Tricia Ann, living in the 1950s in the southern part of the US and shows her traveling to her “special place”, while facing the harsh realities of segregation and discrimination along the way. She wishes to travel to this special place on her own without her grandmother, feeling that she is ready to do this. But this proves to be a harder challenge than ‘Tricia Ann realizes as the constant reminder of the evil Jim Crow laws constantly rear their ugly heads in her face. But after a kind soul that she meets along the way reminds her that she is somebody, ‘Tricia Ann presses on and finally makes it to her “special place”.
I really love the art that is displayed in the book and is very well done; beautifully rendered and truly shows the emotion that’s attached to the story the book tells.
And finally, I present the book, My Name Is Bilal, by Asma Mobin-Uddin.
Another powerful and heartfelt story, this book tells the story of a brother and sister who are Muslims and have started a new school. It shows the difficulties that Bilal (the brother) faces as he and his sister are not initially welcomed by the other kids, one kid in particular. But Bilal finds his place there after the console of one of his teachers, shares a story of a man who shares Bilal’s name and the challenges he faced in ancient times. In the end, Bilal and his peer aggressor, end up playing together and comes to a greater understanding on how important it is of being proud of who one is.
Both of these children’s books, though very different in terms of story, share the same kind of ‘vibe’ and I think are great stories to share with kids; reminding them that it’s okay to be who they are and not be ashamed. Isn’t that the kind of lesson many adults need to learn as well? I’d say, “yes”.
So those are my books for this month. I’m really excited because I discovered some really interesting books that I can’t wait to start reading and I hope to be able to present them to you next month. Wish me luck!
Also, be sure to check out Salazar’s blog on 14 Shades of Grey to see what books she has read this month. Both seem pretty interesting!