In two middle grade fantasy novels, each set against a mythology-inspired backdrop, girls battle monsters that are bent on destroying everything they love. These books are perfect for readers who dream of worlds far beyond what we can see with our own eyes.
In Josephine Against the Sea, Barbadian author Shakirah Bourne introduces 10-year-old Josephine Cadogan. Josephine lives in the small town of Fairy Vale with her father, Vincent, who works as a fisherman. Still reeling from the loss of her mother five years ago, Josephine spends her time playing with her best friend, Ahkai, who has autism, dreaming of glory on the cricket pitch and running off any of her father’s potential new “friends.” She’s successful, too, until her father meets Mariss.
Mariss is beautiful, elegant and charming, and everyone instantly loves her—even Ahkai, who is normally pretty shy. Josephine doesn’t initially suspect anything unusual about Mariss, despite how many unexplainable events seem to surround her. A deep cut on Mariss’ hand vanishes without the trace of a scar. One night, Josephine is mysteriously unable to wake Vincent until Mariss does it with a single word. And Ahkai’s cuddly cat, who is only ever aggressive toward a tuna can, tries to attack Mariss every time he sees her. But when a cricket ball headed straight for Josephine’s bat stops in midair and changes direction during a match Mariss is watching, Josephine can’t ignore the signs. She and Ahkai must unravel the truth about who Mariss really is and what she wants with Vincent and Fairy Vale before it’s too late.
Josephine is a grounded and realistic heroine. She’s still grieving her mother’s death and is blindingly possessive of her father’s love. She’s also incredibly stubborn and willing to go to extreme lengths to have her way. In a hilarious scene, Josephine uses a well-aimed cricket ball and a bucket of fish entrails to let Vincent’s latest “friend” know exactly what he smells like when he comes home from a long day of fishing. But her loyalty to her father, her friends and her town is touching and the driving force behind this emotional story. Debut author Bourne skillfully draws on Barbadian folklore to create a suspenseful adventure that will keep readers guessing until the very end.
Josephine’s story is firmly planted on Earth, but Kiki Kallira’s is out of this world. The 11-year-old heroine of British author Sangu Mandanna’s first middle grade novel Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom crashes into a world of her own creation, where she discovers that her actions could either save or destroy everyone in it.
Kiki’s anxiety is getting worse, and her fixation on worst-case scenarios is becoming overwhelming. Sketching is the only thing that helps her clear her mind. She’s deep into a series of drawings based on the defeat of Mahishasura, a demon from a book of Indian folklore her mom gave her. In the story, Mahishasura becomes so powerful that no man or god can kill him. He conquers the beautiful kingdom of Mysore but then is defeated and banished by a goddess.
As Kiki keeps drawing, strange things begin happening in her London home, and one night, she awakens to her desk on fire and a demon standing in her room. When she chases after it, Kiki meets Ashwini, the heroine of her drawings, who tells her that her art has created a world that allowed Mahishasura to escape. Ashwini pushes Kiki through her sketchbook and into the kingdom of Mysore, where only Kiki has the power to stop Mahishasura. Kiki must fight against forces inside her mind as well as in Mysore to rescue the kingdom and return home.
Kiki, like Josephine, struggles with the relatable disconnect between who she truly believes herself to be and who she thinks she needs to be in order to win her battles. Mandanna, who has written several science fiction novels for teens, excels at depicting how Kiki navigates feelings of fear, anxiety, mistrust and, eventually, self-awareness. Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is a breathtaking rush through Kiki’s growing understanding of herself and the worlds, both real and fantastical, around her. Any kingdom that springs from the mind of an 11-year-old is sure to contain twists and surprises, and Kiki’s does not disappoint.