In The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, we are introduced to Maya, a young woman of Middle Eastern descent, who grows up in her father’s harem until she is of marriageable age. Due to a cursed horoscope that speaks of death, her prospects are slim, and her father uses her as a pawn in a political maneuver. Thinking she will die on her wedding night, Maya is shocked when one of her suitors sweeps her away to the magical Night Bazaar. She agrees to marry Amar, who is the ruler of Akaran, and travels with him to his beautiful but empty kingdom. Endless secrets, hidden doors and a mystical tapestry await Maya as she adjusts to being the new queen.
Fantasy is intertwined with Indian folklore is this unique fairy tale-esque novel that had shades of the Greek myth Hades and Persephone in it. I welcomed the diversity, and the writing is lush and wraps around you like silk. While the lyrical descriptions are appreciated, the metaphors eventually began to overwhelm the writing. I felt as if I were drowning in a deep inky pool as I struggled mightily to wrest myself from the clutches of a cloying adjective heavy narrative (see what I did there?).
Unfortunately by the end, I was desperate for the book to be finished. While I was reading for my pleasure as an adult, I could not help to think of the intended YA audience, and I found fault with several plot threads. Never a fan of insta-love, Amar’s declarations of love and devotion went over the top. He took Maya away from all that she had known, and only offered himself as a companion. Matched with that, she did not have a single friend, and lived in isolation and secrecy. There was no community, only promises of power. Is this what young girls should be taught- that a man sweeping you off your feet and keeping you to himself is love? That all they need is each other, and no one else matters, is a dangerous myth that should not be wrapped up in a package and called destiny.
On the other hand, my other reviewed book, the graphic novel Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, was all about community. This magical-realism tale begins with sisters Catrina and Maya (isn’t that crazy that there were two main characters named Maya in the books?) moving with their parents to northern California. Teen Catrina is devastated to move away from her friends, but her younger sister Maya’s cystic fibrosis symptoms can be alleviated in the cooler foggier environment, and as a loving sister she is willing to make the sacrifice.
The girls explore their new community, Bahía de la Luna, and find that the town has a huge yearly celebration of Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. This ties in with the girls exploring more of their culture, as their mother was the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and regrets that she didn’t learn more about her heritage before her mother died. Carlos, a neighboring teen, introduces them to the ghosts of the community. That the ghosts are believed in and embraced as fact seemed a natural part of the narrative, for it matched the theme of Catrina needing to come to terms with Maya’s inevitable death.
This beautiful evocative tale brought me to tears. Don’t let the deceptively simple illustrations fool you into thinking that the storyline is basic, for this emotionally powerful story will stay with you. Family, community, and accepting death are respectfully tied together in this winning novel.
Winner: Ghosts because of all the FEELS!