Pahua and the Soul Stealer by Lori M. Lee is another fun addition to the Rick Riordan Presents collective. Pahua’s brother’s soul has been stolen, and it’s up to her and her new friend Zhong to get it back.
Pahua Moua has a bit of a reputation for being a weirdo. A lonely eleven-year-old Hmong girl with the unique ability to see spirits, she spends her summer days babysitting her little brother and playing with her best friend, a cat spirit no one else can see.
One day Pahua accidentally untethers an angry spirit from the haunted bridge in her neighborhood–whoops. When her brother suddenly falls sick and can’t be awoken, Pahua fears that the bridge spirit has stolen his soul. She returns to the scene of the crime with her aunt’s old shaman tools, hoping to confront the spirit and demand her brother’s return. Instead, she summons a demon.
Thankfully, a warrior shaman with a bit of an attitude problem shows up at the last minute and saves her butt. With the help of this guide, Pahua will have to find her way through the spirit worlds and rescue her brother’s soul before it’s too late. Little does she know she’ll have her own discoveries to make along the way. . . .
With its unforgettable characters, unique nature-based magic system, breathtaking twists and reveals, and climactic boss battle, this story based on Hmong oral tradition offers everything a fantasy lover could want.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.
“Maybe Pahua Moua, eleven-year-old nobody, was scared of a bridge, but I didn’t have to be her right now.”
Lori M. Lee’s writing is something I’ve enjoyed before, so I was really interested in seeing where she went with a middle-grade book. I also love the Rick Riordan Presents collective, making this something I was highly anticipating. With fast pacing and really funny characters, the charm of Pahua and the Soul Stealer really won me over. If you’ve enjoyed reading about Aru Shah or Paola Santiago, I think you’ll find Pahua Moua to be another new friend.
“We’re being pelted with knowledge!”
Pahua Moua is your standard, awkward, eleven-year-old. Except, unfortunately, she can also see ghosts. This seems to do more harm than good and leads to her being bullied. It’s this backstory that causes her to follow a new girl to a weird bridge, and the domino effect begins. Pahua is written really accurately to the age group, especially as a girl who has been put in the position to parent her younger brother. While she’s still a child, there are times where she gives more adult, calm reactions to things- but this aligns well with the concept of parentification.
Her friendship with Zhong was sweet to see develop, and I always love a “better-than-you” character who has her own issues to deal with. Zhong was no exception. The introduction of Zhong also allowed us to learn more about Shaman’s in this world, as well as the lore and myths that this book is based around. I felt like this was done in a really good way, both telling and showing us the information in a balanced light.
However, the pacing of this book is incredibly fast-paced. This isn’t a bad thing, especially for a middle-grade novel. It did feel like I got to the end and had to catch my breath. So much happens, so quickly, and there’s never a dull moment! This can be frustrating for some readers, but enjoyable for others. Personally, I enjoyed the hit the ground running, and just keep going pace of this tale.
“No, you’re not Shee Yee”, he said, but it wasn’t with his usual insulting tone. He pressed the top of his head beneath my jaw. “You’re Pahua Moua. You can do this.”
This story educated me and warmed my heart all at the same time. I felt emotional for the things Pahua was going through, and for her love of her brother. The friendship that blossoms as Pahua learns about her own powers was really something I adored. This book is a fantastic addition to Rick Riordan Presents, and I can’t wait to read more stories about Pahua.
“Maybe Miv understood what Xov didn’t- that I wasn’t Shee Yee. And I didn’t have to be in order to be the hero my brother needed.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.