The more mythology I read, the more I want to read. Like many, I grew up learning about Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, but I didn’t discover many others until I was older. Visiting Mayan and Native American ruins with my family connected me to more ancient cultures, but there is an enormous world out there I have yet to discover. The most recent introduction I have had is to Hmong culture through the work of Lori M. Lee and her book Pahua and the Soul Stealer.
The first in its series, Pahua and the Soul Stealer introduces readers to eleven-year-old Pahua Moua, a girl who has seen spirits all her life…and that is only one reason why she feels different from those around her. As the only Asian student in her grade in Wisconsin, Pahua is often picked on and left out. Coupled with the fact that her father left her family when she was seven years old, these realities leave her feeling like she is never good enough. So, when a new girl invites Pahua to join her on a walk—going somewhere Pahua isn’t allowed to go—she does anyway, unleashing a power greater than herself and unlocking a secret world Pahua never knew she was a part of. Please see my full review here.
It is not uncommon for young people (and even adults) to feel like they don’t belong. People can be cruel, and especially when you are a minority in a community, it is easy to feel smothered and targeted. Pahua’s story speaks directly to everyone who has ever struggled to determine their place in their world, turning to imagination and pretending in an attempt to find answers. If this story teaches nothing else, it is that everyone has something important to contribute, and being you is better than any alternative.
But of course, this book does teach more than that. While Pahua is learning about her strengths and her path, readers discover a vast and vibrant world filled with gods, demons, and spirits that bridge the mortal and the spirit realms. Though some characters initially seem distrustful or evil, Pahua has the singular power and desire to look past outward behavior to read the creature within. In so doing, she chooses to work with enemies to help them instead of blindly defeating them. This is an important and unique approach to middle grade stories, and one which readers will be encouraged to emulate.
I loved the multifaceted nature of this book. It is filled with storytelling and history, presenting both in a way that is compelling and easy to absorb. There is also ample humor and references to pop culture in the narrative, often making me smile as I imagine the characters saying or doing what is described in the text. These moments pass quickly, though, so it is important to pay attention, or you might miss them.
It is easy to imagine this book as a film, as vivid descriptions, action sequences, and dialogue fill the entirety of the story. Additionally, as a primarily oral storytelling culture already, film is a choice medium for bringing this wonderful story to greater life. I can’t wait for book two to come out so I can jump back into Pahua’s world and learn more about her strength and growth. This story is not only excellent for young readers, but anyone interested in global mythology and culture will fall for it, as well.
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