Four Paws Up for Lalani of the Distant Sea

This gorgeous book cover caught my eye while I was browsing the YA shelves at BookPeople with a friend—a fun little side-trip we take during our downtown Austin cycling excursions. After skimming the dustcover, I set it back on the shelf because fantasy adventures are so not my jam. My friend, however, decided to give it a whirl after the book clerk sang it’s praises, telling us she felt the need to hug the book after finishing the last chapter. How can anyone resist that hype? Long story short, I ended up borrowing it and realizing how much I’m missing when I pass up on books outside my favorite genres. Although, you really can’t go wrong with a classic Stephen King novel or a magical cat cozy mystery. Just sayin!

Either way, this is an AMAZING YA fantasy story with so much heart–and YES, I did want to hug it after finishing! This is a book I would recommend to young readers, especially young girls who, like myself, can relate to Lalani’s struggles with bullying. She faces a lot of cruelty—not just from the schoolyard bullies but also the sadistic uncle and cousin living under her thatched roof. Oooooh, how I could relate. Adolescence ain’t for the faint of heart, folks.

So yes, this is a wonderful book for young girls who feel powerless in the face of adversity. Lalani is here to show you that if you set your mind to it, anything is possible. That may sound like the world’s worst platitude, but this book had me feeling it!  You know what else made me happy? I took much enjoyment in the author’s subtle antifascist messaging. I’m pretty sure many of you reading this can find this passage particularly relatable:

“Never trust someone who wields power through fear. We have many opportunities in life to overcome fear and embrace courage. Once we seize the first opportunity, it becomes easier to seize the second.”

― Erin Entrada Kelly, Lalani of the Distant Se

As for the world-building, the author did a masterful job transporting me to the fantastical island village of Sanlagita. I felt like I was right there with Lalani watching the fishing boats drifting in the ocean amidst the backdrop of the forbidden mountain. I could envision the boats of sailors vanishing into the mystical fog in search of great fortunes, never to be seen again. And oh how I loved the little woodland and aquatic critters that were based upon Filipino folklore. My only gripe is that they needed to play a larger role in the story. Perhaps that could happen in the sequel? I sure hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Lalani and the islanders of Sanglagita.

If you love adventure stories, please give this book a chance. It truly is a brilliant story worthy of all the prestigious book awards. It’s more than just a story about a girl on a quest to save her village; it’s a story about hope, love and persistence. Imagine how much change we could make in this world if we didn’t just throw up our hands and say, “Oh well.” Imagine what could happen if we all braved the wilderness (Brené Brown, I’m channeling you!) and went against the flow to do what’s right? Just imagine the possibilities if more Lalani’s existed in this world!

“We have many opportunities in life to overcome fear and embrace courage. Once we seize the first opportunity, it becomes easier to seize the second.”

― Erin Entrada Kelly, Lalani of the Distant Sea

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