Title: Maya and the Rising Dark (Maya and the Rising Dark #1)
Author: Rena Barron
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Contemporary Fantasy
Release Date: September 22nd 2020 from HMH Books for Young Readers
Format: ARC via NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis: In this highly anticipated contemporary fantasy, twelve-year-old Maya’s search for her missing father puts her at the center of a battle between our world, the Orishas, and the mysterious and sinister Dark world. Perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and The Serpent’s Secret.
Twelve-year-old Maya is the only one in her South Side Chicago neighborhood who witnesses weird occurrences like werehyenas stalking the streets at night and a scary man made of shadows plaguing her dreams. Her friends try to find an explanation—perhaps a ghost uprising or a lunchroom experiment gone awry. But to Maya, it sounds like something from one of Papa’s stories or her favorite comics.
When Papa goes missing, Maya is thrust into a world both strange and familiar as she uncovers the truth. Her father is the guardian of the veil between our world and the Dark—where an army led by the Lord of Shadows, the man from Maya’s nightmares, awaits. Maya herself is a godling, half orisha and half human, and her neighborhood is a safe haven. But now that the veil is failing, the Lord of Shadows is determined to destroy the human world and it’s up to Maya to stop him. She just hopes she can do it in time to attend Comic-Con before summer’s over.
So I will admit that I’ve had this ARC since December and only finished it recently. This was originally going to be published in May but due to COVID, the date was pushed to late September. I did think that reading it a bit closer to the release date was good, but I do feel bad that I waited so long to finally finish it. I will also say that with being an adult, I’m not the target audience for this book. But despite that, this was a fun book that was a nice distraction from my normal routine. I learned new things about African folklore which was a big bonus. Books that teach me about new cultures and mythology always makes the experience richer. So while this wasn’t a 4 or 5 star read, I’m glad that I tried this and glad I’m trying to read more middle grade. Here’s the breakdown of my thoughts:
- Maya’s family: I loved Maya’s parents! Both her parents love her, support her and are always there for her. I really appreciate books where the parent or parents are present in their kids lives. Maya’s father is such a great father figure, spending time withe her, teaching her and loving her. Her mother was also great in trying to protect her and help Maya understand the world around her.
- Maya’s voice: Even though I haven’t been a kid for a long time, I enjoyed Maya’s voice. She’s a wonderful girl who wants to do the right thing, she’s brave, she loves nerdy things and is a kind soul. While she did have times where she didn’t think before doing something, that’s understandable. We as humans don’t always think things through before enacting our plan or going off to do something. Maya’s drive to save her dad was inspiring and even though she was scared, she always tried to be brave and good.
- African folklore: This book definitely has a Rick Riordan presents feeling with the approach to mythology. This book feels similar to Aru Shah and the End of Time, with the way that Rena Barron integrates the African folklore and mythology in this contemporary fantasy. I like stories of mythologies coming to life and being the center of the story and conflict. Maya’s reactions to seeing the creatures and magic come to life from her dad’s stories was both realistic and fun to read about. The best part for me was seeing all the different Orishas that Maya interacted with, seeing their roles and different powers. I’m not familiar with African folklore so this was refreshing to read about a culture I’m not familiar with and learning something new from the books you read is always a bonus.
- Friend Group: Maya has two friends who go with her on the journey: Frankie, a smart girl whose interested in STEM and Eli, a boy obsessed with ghosts and supernatural phenomena. The trio were so funny and all three had great voices. I liked seeing their freak outs of cool moments, discovering their powers and helping each other. This is a great friend group that I think kids can look up to for good friends!
- Pacing: According to bookseller websites and Goodreads, this book is just over 300 pages. So while it’s a shorter book, it did feel long. The journey aspect lasts a lot longer than it should have, with the major action not happening until the last couple of chapters. While the journey section was important and stuff happened, I do think that some could’ve been summarized or trimmed a bit to speed up towards the final battle. The feeling of how long this book felt didn’t always motivate me to keep reading.
- Villain: I don’t know if it’s just be being an adult, but I do think that the villain was underdeveloped. The main big bad has a big connection to the new world that Maya is apart of, but I felt like the villain’s objective and origin were only surface level. While this is going to be a series, I would have liked a bit deeper explanation for why the big bad was connected to someone that Maya knows, etc. He did seem a bit too “mustache twirling” for me, but take this with a grain of salt.
Overall: Despite not loving this, this was a fun book with great friend group, present parents and a great exploration of African folklore. If you’re looking for more books by Black authors to put on your TBR, add this one if it sounds up your alley! I do have that disconnect of being an adult reading books meant for kids, but it was still fun.
Have you read this yet? Are you excited for it? Are there middle grade books by Black authors that you would recommend to me? Let me know in the comments!