What would it be like to have special powers? Can you imagine discovering gifts that altered your perceptions of who you are? If you remember being 12 or you ever imagined an alternate universe or a fantasy world, you’re a prime candidate for Payal Doshi’s debut novel, Rea and the Blood of the Nectar.
On their twelfth birthday, Rohan sneaks out to play a soccer game at midnight and his sister, Rea, sneaks out to watch him despite being irked that she was not invited. At the match, Rohan loses, and Rea makes new friends. Afterward, Rohan never makes it home. Their mother, Amma, and grandmother, Bajai, accept that he’s gone, which puzzles Rea since he was their favorite. Looking for him, she stumbles into a banyan tree and is transported into a fantastical world called Astrantha, where flowers and plants can talk and an evil queen manipulates her subjects and has imprisoned Rohan.
Why? And what will it take for Rea to solve the mystery and free her brother?
Doshi brings strong descriptive skills to her writing. At the beginning of Chapter 12, she writes, “A gigantic, mold-ridden bud sat on a dirt road emanating a buzzing hum. Susurrating voices rose and fell from its wall. As they got closer it turned into a cacophony of a thousand whispers.” At the start of Chapter 17, the narrator evokes a very different feeling: “Flowers and iridescent petals glowed, infusing the air with scent and song, some humming soft lullabies, others a peppy, flute-like rune.” Although the vocabulary may be a bit advanced for some young people between 8 and 12, many will get a sense of the setting from the images the words create or from skilled oral reading, and others might start asking what the unfamiliar words mean.
Set in both an imaginary world and Darjeeling, India, the book shares both a specific culture and a universal need for recognition. The author uses her imagination to show us a young girl reaching between two worlds, somewhat like many American children reaching between two sets of expectations at home and at school. Rea wants to broker a peace between her mother and aunt, and problem solve without even knowing the tools she has. This story should inspire middle graders to look inside themselves for their own tools, and may encourage some of them to plan a trip to India when they are older.
I’d love to see this story in libraries, classrooms, and on the bedroom bookshelves of tweens. This is the first book in a series, and it will be interesting to see what comes next.