Pahua and the Soul Stealer

Rick Riordan Presents. Sept. 2021. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368068246.
Gr 4 Up–This action-packed adventure centers Pahua, a Hmong girl who can see nature spirits. Her father abandoned the family, leaving her alone with her mother and little brother. The school bullies, who read as white, make fun of Pahua’s food, dress, and language. A new girl finally invites Pahua to hang out at the bridge, and despite feeling negative vibes Pahua agrees to go. At the bridge, Pahua comes into contact with the spirit of a girl that died there. This spirit is angry and attaches itself to Pahua—and her little brother. Pahua borrows some of the shaman gear left by her aunt in her mother’s closet and goes to confront the bridge spirit. While there she meets, Zhong, a shaman warrior in training. Zhong, who knows more about evil spirits called poj ntxoog, agrees to assist Pahua in going into the spirit realm to save her little brother. Pahua learns from a friendly spirit that she only has a few days to untether the bridge spirit from her little brother’s or he will die. Pahua and Zhong come across many spiritfolk who assist them and tell more folktales, building the rich world out for the reader. The girls even meet some of the Gods and Goddesses themselves. Lee uses Hmong language throughout the story, and readers who are unfamiliar will be able to figure out the meaning using context and the glossary at the end of the book. The prevalent themes of this action-packed novel include friendship, family, and identity.
VERDICT This powerful story rooted in Southeast Asian mythology should be on all shelves for teens and tweens to find. Fantasy readers will love Pahua and look forward to her adventures.

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