Pahua and the Soul Stealer
Author: Lori M. Lee
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: September 7, 2021
Summary: Pahua Moua has a bit of a reputation for being a weirdo. A lonely eleven-year-old Hmong girl with the unique ability to see spirits, she spends her summer days babysitting her little brother and playing with her best friend, a cat spirit no one else can see.
One day Pahua accidentally untethers an angry spirit from the haunted bridge in her neighborhood--whoops. When her brother suddenly falls sick and can't be awoken, Pahua fears that the bridge spirit has stolen his soul. She returns to the scene of the crime with her aunt's old shaman tools, hoping to confront the spirit and demand her brother's return. Instead, she summons a demon.
Thankfully, a warrior shaman with a bit of an attitude problem shows up at the last minute and saves her butt. With the help of this guide, Pahua will have to find her way through the spirit worlds and rescue her brother's soul before it's too late. Little does she know she'll have her own discoveries to make along the way. . . .
My thoughts: I'm so excited for students to get their hands on this book. Like the other Rick Riordan Presents books, this is also jam packed with action and fascinating storytelling. Each book in the imprint is written with inspiration from traditional stories and this one is based on the Hmong stories that Lori M. Lee grew up hearing.
There are Hmong stories scattered throughout the book and the warrior shaman Pahua meets helps explain a lot of things about Hmong practices and beliefs in between their many adventures. There are also Hmong symbols at the beginning of chapters. Readers unfamiliar with Hmong storytelling and culture may not notice everything, but Hmong readers are sure to recognize the many Hmong symbols, foods, words, and much more.
The spirit cat and the many other spirits that Pahua encounters are each unique and intriguing. Young readers may find the story to be slightly creepy, but it is not terrifying horror. It seems to be just enough scariness to send shivers up the spine on occasion without overwhelming the typical middle grade reader.
I flew through the story at a fast pace in a hurry to see what would come next. Traveling through the spirit realm with Pahua was quite a ride and I was very happy to be on the journey.
Recommendation: Pahua and her companions are sure to entertain and delight middle grade readers as they attempt to finish their quest. This will be a winner with readers who love fantasy and lots of action. There is also plenty of humor too. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with my students and hope that many readers get a chance to meet Pahua.