Soraya grew up with her mother’s stories about a cursed princess whose poisoned skin killed any living creature she touched, and of a cruel prince who consorted with the demonic entities called divs until he became one himself. But these weren’t just stories. They were tales to help Soraya cope with the truth: She is the princess in the story, living in fear that her div-green veins mean she, too, will give in to darkness and transform from girl to monster.
Just before Soraya’s brother, the shah, is to be wed, a captured div named Parvaneh makes Soraya an offer. If Soraya can bring Parvaneh a magical feather from the simorgh bird, her curse will be lifted. At first Soraya is suspicious, as divs are notorious liars. Despite her mis-givings, Soraya sets out to find the feather. As the plot begins to twist like the secret passageways beneath the shah’s palace, Soraya’s conflicted loyalties lead her to a fork in her path. Which parts of herself will she embrace?
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is YA literature at its best. Characters suspended between two forms—here, human and demon—are ideal metaphors for the half-child, half-adult nature of adolescence. The book’s queer romance conveys the headiness and sensuality of falling in love for the first time. Author Melissa Bashardoust draws heavily on the ancient mythology of Persia and includes a fascinating author’s note detailing her sources. Careful readers will also find motifs from fairy tales such as “Sleeping Beauty,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel.”
Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a richly metaphorical story of a teen claiming her identity and her place in the world.