Pahua and the Soul Stealer is another slam dunk entry for the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney Publishing Worldwide. Lori M. Lee’s newest middle grade novel introduces readers to Hmong mythology, and fans of past works from the publishing giant will not be disappointed.

In the book we meet eleven-year-old Pahua Moua. Though she spends most of her free time babysitting her little brother Matt, Pahua has a secret. She can see spirits everywhere and one of them, a cat spirit named Miv is her best friend. To make her life more difficult, Pahua’s mom recently moved them to the small town of Merdel where there is little Hmong culture, and Pahua is often ridiculed for her looks, insulted because of the food she eats, and generally ostracized from having any friends. To make matters worse, she’s attending summer school.

Danger threatens Pahua when she accidently untethers a bridge spirit from a park. This desperate entity steals her brother’s soul, which results in the boy falling into a mysterious coma, and Pahua learning about her birthright. With Matt in the hospital and her mother at his bedside, Pahua begins a journey through the realms to save her brother, and to learn the truth about her culture.

Middle grade mythology books usually have some similarities, but each story uses those similarities in vastly different ways to tell a unique tale. Having talented writers is a bonus too. Pahua and the Soul Stealer not only lives up to the hype of being the next Rick Riordan Presents book, but it also charts a new course for readers to explore. From Shaman warriors, a new set of gods, and the Tree of Souls, readers will be glued to the page as they follow Pahua navigate her way through realms that are more dangerous and complex than Middle School.

Pahua is a likable kid that is easy to connect with no matter how old the reader is. She is a loving big sister, and a confused daughter. Why did her mom move the family so far away from everyone they knew including family? Why have her mom and aunt stopped talking to each other? Why did her dad leave so many years ago? These are some of the most complex and pressing issues on Pahua’s mind.

Nevertheless, this being a middle grade mythology book there are always more supernatural complications. Her friendship with Miv, is an unexpected delight to an already intriguing book. Miv has that brotherly/friend vibe that Pahua is lacking. He not only is sarcastic and pessimistic by times which makes this reader laugh out loud.

For a girl who feels alone, she is fortunate to have Miv. But even though Pahua is surrounded by spirits everywhere she goes, she feels lonely. The danger she faces in fighting gods is nothing compared to the isolation Pahua lives each day being a Hmong girl in a small town where all the faces are white. Lonely, Pahua sees Miv as a lifeline in a world that has few opportunities for her. Plus, Miv is funny and brings a light-hearted outlook to much of the book.

 

When Pahua frees the bridge spirit, it sets off a chain reaction of events that brings her in contact with a new friend, Zhong. About the same age as Pahua, Zhong has been sent by her master at the Shaman school to capture the bridge spirit and bring order to the realms.

Initially the relationship between Zhong and Pahua is icy, but the bridge spirit event has introduced two lonely and very different girls to their future best friends. Together they travel the realms to save Matt and capture the bridge spirit. When the plan of a dangerous god is revealed, we see the layers and depth of the story that Lee has created in Pahua and the Soul Stealer. For all the heartache that Pahua has lived through, she now has a human best friend to fight by her side in the tradition of Shaman warriors.

Having read all the books in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, I am continuously amazed by how each book is so engaging and has me hooked from the first page. These middle grade books from the talented roster of authors are always compelling and exciting because they fulfill something that is lacking in this world today, the genuine art of being curious for the sake of being curious. Facts and videos from around the world can be consumed at record pace through social media platforms, but the true genuine curiosity of someone telling us a story is lost in soundbites or video clips. The Rick Riordan Presents books not only bring multiculturalism to the readers but it answers that age old question that everyone as a kid always asked their parents, “Can you tell me a story?”.

The world is filled with a rich amount of diversity and ethnic stories that we don’t know. I hope to be 80 and still consuming new stories from the world we live in through Rick Riordan Presents.