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Book Review: Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

Publisher’s description

For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life—including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.

Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years. 

One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?

Amanda’s thoughts

If you know anything about this book, and have been reading my recent reviews, you’re probably like, “Let me guess—she read this book for the SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction that she keeps yammering on about.” And you’re right! I did! And like all the others I’ve read for this article, I’m so glad I had a reason to pick this book up (I mean, beyond the reason of, “I’m trying to read every book ever published!” which is a project that is futile, thus sometimes I need a real concrete reason to move a book from “maybe someday” to “right now!”).

When the pocket world Kiki has created in her sketchbooks turns out to be real, and Kiki is now in it, her anxiety has to morph from “oh no, if I left the door unlocked a goose may eat my mom!” (which, honestly, was such a relatable bit of anxiety brain—I mean, maybe minus the specific of the goose) to “can I get out of my own way far enough to save everyone in this world?!” That’s a big ask for anyone, but especially for Kiki, whose anxiety likes to make her worry about everything and doubt herself all the time. And in the real world, she tries to downplay how bad she sometimes feels. Her mom certainly seems loving and receptive and would certainly work to get her help, but Kiki doesn’t want to worry her. But it turns out if you end up somehow living inside a world you drew, you start to have more forthcoming conversations about mental health. This feels right, because Kiki threw herself so thoroughly into books and art as a way to distract from her anxiety, so I love that this very art literally helps her work out what’s going on with her.

The entire quest in Mysore is full of adventure, vibrant characters, and great details. Fantasy fans, whether they are familiar with Hindu mythology or not, will love Kiki’s journey. And while there is plenty of good stuff to say about that entire journey, I want to talk a little more about the mental health rep. I love that we are seeing not only more compassionate and accurate representation in middle grade books, period, but that it’s starting to show up beyond just realistic fiction stories. Because even brave (if somewhat reluctant) warriors can have anxiety! And even people with anxiety can become brave warriors! Kiki goes from feeling like her anxiety is her fault, like if she were stronger or braver this wouldn’t be happening to her, to understanding she has an illness that is just a part of her but not all of her.

Kiki learns important lessons on her quest. It’s okay to be messy and anxious and scared. You can still fight the monster, even if it’s in your brain. You can still be in control, be master of your fate, bear your teeth at the wolf. The monsters won’t always be there. You can take back your world. You just might need a little help along the way. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Asking for help makes you an even braver warrior.

A fantastic and empowering read.

ISBN-13: 9780593206973
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Series: Kiki Kallira #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years