Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Hey, hey Write Voicers!
I'm excited to bring you another book review this month! My blog is small but mighty, and I appreciate those of you who read it on a monthly basis. In the spirit of keeping up with good news, I figure this is as good a place as any to tell you all that beginning in October (or maybe even sooner if things go well) I'll be releasing short stories based on my WIPs, as well as deleted scenes, chapters that I'm working on, timelines, and so much more! Like this blog, posts will be monthly. So, if you want in, all you have to do is Click Here. After you submit the form, you'll get a link and a password to my free short stories. It's that simple!
But, enough about me and what I've got going on. I know ya'll really come here for the book reviews, so here's a new one for you: In My Hands by Sathya Achia.
**WARNING: This book review contains SPOILERS**
What's the novel about?
In My Hands follows the story of Chandraka S. Chengappa, aka Chandra, who wants to be a normal sixsteen-year-old girl. But normal is hard when you can see rakshasis—demons found in South Asian folklore. Add to that a glowing disk, strange visions, and celestial weapons meant for battling evil, and it's no reason normal is hard. And that's okay, because sometimes life isn't about being normal. Sometimes it's about stopping the world from plunging into supernatural disaster with the help of your friends.
What themes are present in the book?
I would say there are two main themes in the book. First, no one is what they seem. And, second, confidence in yourself is something you build through effort. I'll explore these ideas more below.
No one is what they seem.
There are a lot of moments throughout In My Hands where Chandra, and the readers, find out that no one in the book is what they seem. For instance, in the beginning of the book, we see Amma as Chandra's superstitious mother who doesn't believe in Appa's or Chandra's abilities to see the Rakshasi (more on this later). But, in actuality, Amma is not Chandra's birth mother. Instead, she is Chandra's Watcher—meaning she is supposed to ensure that Chandra is able to fulfill her destiny.
Then, there's the fortune teller, Surya. When we first meet her, Surya gives off serious evil vibes when she "attacks" Chandra. But, in actuality, Surya—who also goes by the name Raya—is one of the Lambadi people who are supposed to help Chandra through her journey of being the Ārisalpatta, or Chosen One.
There are a few other instances in the novel, but I'll leave them for y'all to find.
Confidence in yourself is something you build through effort.
At the beginning of the book Chandra seems to lack confidence in herself. This is especially shown when she misses the steps in her dance practice and when she is confronted by girls in her school about the fact that her Appa is dead. Chandra's lack of confidence is also shown in how she compares herself to her sister. She constantly talks about how Leena is the "perfect" child and how she will never be able to live up to that reputation. Speaking from experience, putting that kind of pressure on yourself can definitely lead to issues with your self-esteem and how you view yourself.
But as we progress in the novel, we see Chandra slowly begin to build her self-confidence when she gains knowledge about her heritage, when she masters the dance that she struggled with in the beginning, and when she wields the ten pieces of warrior armor, among other things. In other words, the more Chandra gets comfortable in her own skin, the more confident she becomes in herself.
What did you like?
What I liked most about In My Hands was the representation of South Asian culture, the descriptive language, and the glossary of terms at the end.
Representation of South Asian Culture
As a black woman, I know what it's like to wander the shelves looking for a YA book that is representative of my background, and I assume that people from other marginalized groups feel the same way. That's why I liked that this book represents South Asian culture. I was even happier that its author, Sathya Achia, is South Asian. In today's world, there are so many books out there that claim to be authentic to a specific culture, and then you find out that the author of the book misrepresented themselves so that they could cash in on the so-called diversity train.
So, to have a book that is truly a #ownvoices is refreshing. I think Achia does a great job melding the South Asian culture into the book by including clothing and language that are specific to her culture. Before reading this book, I didn't know what a lehenga was, and I did not know the proper term for the original gypsy people was Lambadi (I did know that gypsy was a derogatory term. I was nervous when one of the characters used the word gypsy early on, and I started to make note of it, but then a different character rectified it, so I felt better about the initial scene. But, even that was a nice touch in terms of adding in culture and heritage).
If you've read any of my reviews, you know that I'm a huge sucker for descriptive language. For me, there is no such thing as too much description (unless you're Stephen King and it goes longer than a paragraph). So sentences like, "A hurricane of mesmerizing colors appeared in my line of sight, hovering in the air between Appa and me, like a ghostly watercolor portrait with no borders," OR "I push my American passport and customs paperwork through the slot, trying not to touch the window covered in a greasy film of fingerprints," really capture my attention. There are plenty of great scenes in the book that are as—or even more in some cases—descriptive as this. Most of them occur in the flashback scenes (more on this later too).
If you want to write your own descriptive language, try watching this video!
The glossary at the end.
I LOVE it when books have glossaries, especially fantasy books. It doesn't occur as often as I'd like, but when it does I become giddy. Why? Because, to me, a glossary can explain a lot of things in a book while allowing the author to A) avoid info dumping and B) create a richer in fantasy world with culture and history and all the other stuff that makes YA fantasy what it is. I also liked that if I forgot what something was, or what a term meant, that I could just look it up (Jipsi jānapada nritya—a fictitious form of South Indian folk dance that borrows from the more classical forms of Indian dance including Bharatnatyam—was definitely one I looked at a few times).
What, if anything, did you dislike or wish the author would've done differently?
Unfortunately, there were a few things that I disliked about the book. For one, Chandra comes off as whiny. Second, I was confused by some of the character's actions/beliefs. And, last, there were way too many flashbacks.
For one, Chandra comes off as whiny for a good portion of it. And, yes, I know that when it comes to Chosen One stories, there is going to be some whining (just look at Katniss in the third Hunger Games book), but there is a point where it gets to be tedious and it makes a person want to stop reading and put the book down. Earlier I discussed that as the book went on Chandra gained more self-confidence and, while that's true, it took far too long for her to get there. I mean, I was a little more than halfway through the book when I felt like she began to take that initiative.
Earlier in this review, I said that Chandra's Amma didn't believe in Chandra's and her Appa's abilities to see the Rakshasis. I found this to be confusing when reading the book because Amma was Chandra's Watcher. And, from what I gathered from the other characters who lived in the village that Amma was from, it didn't make sense that Amma believed in superstitions and being a Watcher, but didn't think that Chandra could see Rakshasis—especially when she was training her to fight one.
And not only was she training her, but the whole point of the Ārisalpatta is that she has to see Rakshasis in order to destroy it.
I feel the same way about Surya. Surya repeatedly says that she doesn't put much stock in the superstitions of the village, but she can see energy and grew up in the village. If anyone should believe in the stories about Rakshasis or why the wells dry up, etc., it should be her.
Too many flashbacks.
I've read a lot of books in my X amount of years alive (y'all didn't really think I was going to tell you my age, did you?) and flashbacks are always a hit or miss. Even in my own writing, I have to think about whether certain scenes warrant a flashback, or whether I can tell the story from a different point of time to incorporate all the information that my reader needs to know to immerse themselves in the story. In the case of In My Hands, I think Achia relies on flashbacks too much. Don't get me wrong, the flashbacks are well written, but I also think that the story could have started from an earlier point in time.
I know that there's a huge thing in the publishing industry about the usage of prologues and how long they should be, but I think with this book, a prologue would have been acceptable. Or, alternatively, the same way Chapter Six: Welcome to the Jungle notifies us that it's 3 Months Later, some of the flashbacks could have been recorded in a similar way. As in, they could have had a tag of 1,000 Years Ago, and then a tag of Present Day to catch us up to what's going on. I think this would have eliminated some of the confusion that I had when trying to piece together when Chandra was seeing the past versus the future.
And, again, I want to reiterate, there's nothing wrong with flashbacks. They are a useful tool, and they have their place. I just think that it's also possible to overutilize them, and that takes me out of the story.
How many stars would you give this book and why?
As I said earlier, there were some great scenes in this book and some wonderful prose. But, the truth is, I can't overlook Chandra's whining, how the character's actions and words don't necessarily match their beliefs, and the overwhelming amount of flashbacks. So, I'm awarding this book three out of five stars.
Sathya Achia is the author of In My Hands, which will be available for purchase on August 8, 2022 at bookstores near you. Her short story "The Crane in the Mist" in Tales Untold-Mythos from Around the World (which is also based on South Asian Folklore) will be coming in October 2022.
For the latest updates on Sathya's books, and to join her newsletter, visit her website.
If you enjoyed this review and want to know more about her, check out this interview.
What was your favorite part of In My Hands? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!