Make sure you are sitting in a comfy spot when you crack open this middle grades fantasy adventure, because it hits the ground running from the very beginning and doesn’t let up over 368 pages. The like-able and relatable brother sister duo snarkily banter and bicker about everything from cultural Indian (Desi) folklore, religious stories, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, He-Man, Arabic Sesame Street, Star Wars, hygiene, fears, potential science fair projects, and food, all while battling jinn, devs, peris, and reality as they work to save the worlds. The book is chalked full of STEM concepts, cultural touchstone, Islamic footholds, pop culture, and fun, as one character remarks, it is the ultimate fan fiction. I regularly Googled people, references, and concepts, and ended up learning quite a bit. And don’t fret if you ever get lost or confused, or something doesn’t make sense, you don’t have to worry that you missed something or that the author left a gap in the narrative, the book moves quick and Amira’s constant dialogue and commentary points out all the ridiculousness of what they are experiencing and the questions that she wishes she had time to ask, explore, and discover. The author never loses control of the narrative, and keeps the world building on level without skimping on details and understanding. I have not loved any of the author’s previous books in their entirety, I think this one, however, is her best one yet, and the switch to middle grades is a good fit.
Twelve-year-old Amira and her 10-year-old brother Hamza are heading to the Shriner’s Madinah Temple in their hometown of Chicago to explore the exhibit of Ancient Astronomy artifacts, or as Hamza calls it “tools that belonged to dead Muslim Astrologers.” Hosted by the Islamic Society of Ancient Astronomy corresponds with the eclipse viewing party of the incredibly rare super blood blue moon. In typical Hamza fashion however, a Nerf gun is brought and things are touched. When Amira is tasked with bringing her brother up to the roof to learn how to use the telescopes, the two scuffle over a small box with a tiny moon inside, a series of snatching and tussling between the siblings cause the Box of the Moon to break, or rather start working. As day turns to night, the moon seems to be breaking a part, and everyone in the world is suspended in sleep except for Amira and Hamza, and an entire jinn army is heading their way.
When jinn leaders Abdul Rahman and Maqbool reach the children they must convince them that they are not there to harm them, but rather to recruit them as the chosen ones to save the worlds: Qaf and Earth and the barrier, the moon, that keeps the realms separate from destruction at the hands of Ifrit. The confusion over there being two of them creeps up, but is squashed as Suleiman the Wise left tests to prove that the chosen one is properly equipped to battle Iftrit as it has been prophesized. The children must work together to prove themselves they must then actually seek out and defeat Ifrit. As tests and challenges arise, it becomes clear (pun intended) that the two are not the chosen ones, but with no option of turning back they must forge ahead none-the-less.
“What? We’re Indian, dude, we were basically born half doctor.”
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love Amira and Hamza’s banter. The references are at times laugh out loud funny. Similarly, I was impressed by all the historical and STEM concepts intertwined in the story, there is even a tiny bit about mental health. I learned about parts of the moon, historical figures, folklore, and more. The characters are Muslim, Amira wears Ayatul Kursi around her neck and they talk of Sunday school. The book isn’t religious though, in they aren’t saying Bismillah before they embark on things, or supplicating when in danger, but they greet different beings with peace, and the framing is clearly from an Islamic paradigm. I think the high speed pacing works for most of the book, and somehow you still get to know and connect with the characters, but at times a slight pause to clarify a point would have been nice. I would have liked to have the kids proving they were the chosen ones a bit more articulate and dramatic before hand rather than in retrospect. I feel like the jinn transportation of cauldrons could have used a bit of backstory as well. And a little fleshing out of the scroll, the government structure and communication methods of Qaf, would have helped some of the transitions between the action. I read a digital ARC and it had a page reserved for a map, and I think when the physical book comes out that will be really helpful, as I didn’t quite fully understand the 18 realms and their locations in comparison to the locations the children encounter.
There is magic and magical beings. It mentions Amira and Hamza celebrating Halloween. Death and fighting.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think this would be a great audio book to listen to with the family or a read aloud in a middle grades classroom. It is too young for middle school readers to not find it slightly predictable, but if you had it on a classroom or home shelf I am sure it would be picked up, read, enjoyed by middle grades and middle schoolers alike. It reads much like the Rick Riordan Presents series and I hope that there are more books featuring Amira and Hamza in the future.