Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.
The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
When Aru Shah was announced three years ago I was *so* excited. I love that Rick Riordan used his influence to find and promote diverse voices to create a wealth of mythological modern-fantasy that he could never have created on his own. I was so excited to hear a new take, a new set of myths that I wasn’t already familiar with, a female perspective. And then I just … never read it? I’m so glad I finally did!
Chokshi nailed the humor that made Riordan’s books so successful. Aru is a lot like Percy: impulsive, kind of an outsider, basically no vocabulary. It was nice to see that this style of humor and writing still works with a female protagonists, and I think it will make the book appeal to both boys and girls. Having read Chokshi’s YA books I was expecting something different, but I loved how this felt like falling back into Percy’s world, just with a different set of dieties.
But even though I think boys will enjoy this book, it was distinctly feminist. And not with any subtlety, either. Good. Boys and girls both need a healthy dose of feminism in their literature.
I will say that I didn’t find the mythological aspects as clear as I do in Riordan’s books. I don’t know if that’s because I have more background knowledge on Greek/Roman and Egyption mythology, because less focus was put on specific stories, because I was distracted while reading this book, or because Chokshi spent more time on character development rather than exposition. But I didn’t walk away from this book necessarily feeling like I learned something the way I did when I read Magnus Chase.
Maybe it’s unfair to be comparing this book to everything Rick Riordan wrote, but that’s just how I approached it. Honestly, I think that’s how Chokshi approached it too. It’s very similar in tone, style, pacing, plot, and humor to Riordan’s books, especially the original Percy Jackson, that it’s impossible to imagine she didn’t write it that way intentionally. While this book still its own thing, based on what I know about the Rick Riordan Presents imprint this book is the most similar to Riordan’s. It feels like it could exist in the same universe and they could team up for a Percy-Aru-Carter-Magnus monster slaying extravaganza. I’ll keep dreaming.
Overall, so much fun. Highly recommend for kids, especially those who loved PJ or who feel like outsiders in some way.