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?
I finished this book feeling the extreme weight of doing something remarkable for my older self to be nostalgic about, and also realizing, with stark clarity, that the one thing all different mythologies have in common: all gods just live for drama.
So, what’s this book about?
Aru Shah and The End of Time begins with a bad idea, and bad ideas begin, as most bad ideas do, with a dare.
Aru Shah likes to bend the truth. That was what her classmates meant when they called her a liar, and they weren’t wrong, but they missed the main point. Aru was a “liar” in more profound a way than they knew. Aru lives with her curator mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture in Atlanta, and she had for so long fed her mind on stories that if you could wander into it, you would discover a fantasia. Aru just didn’t expect her real life to intersect with fiction. She might have intentionally lit the supposedly cursed Lamp of Bharata and unintentionally released the demonic Sleeper from his slumber, prompting the end of the world. She might really be the reincarnation of one of the Pandava brothers, famous demigods, and she might even force her mind to expand outward and believe that Mini, a complete stranger, is her newly found “soul sister”, her guardian angel is a grumpy pigeon named Subala (“Boo” to aggravate him) and the fate of the universe lies in the hands of two clueless twelve-year-old.
But surely, there must be some fundamental rule of the universe that forbids you set off on quests in your Spider-Man pajamas because that’s where Aru draws the line.
“Sometimes you don’t even know how special you might be. Sometimes it takes moments of horror or happiness to, if you will, unleash that knowledge.”
It’s startling to take stock of how of a piece this book feels with the Percy Jackson series, of what a complicated dance of intermeshing nostalgias this book stirs and explores.
Aru Shah and The End of Time is a tapestry woven together by threads from Hindu cosmology and folklore, and Chokshi has successfully plumbed a lesser-represented mythology and written an immersive world that is described in such exquisite manner and given such a measure of life that it seizes the imagination like a drug. The whole is an uplifting, joyful story that is chock-full of witty banter and pop-culture references that left me in an uncommonly good mood.
Aru fell tumbling inside a story and simultaneously writing it all around her, and not alone but with someone—Mini—who just happened to be as brave and magical as a fairy tale made real. I absolutely loved their friendship. Two sides of the same coin, they stumbled upon each other, in a collision, as though they had long been wandering in the same labyrinth and had finally rounded the corner that would bring them face-to-face. Saving the world, as we all know, is traditionally a dull affair made cheery only by having someone else to keep you company. And in spite of the chill that didn’t quite leave them as the ill-omened day creeps closer, I love how they were still well able to marvel at their latest unfolding of their life.
Aru Shah and The End of Time is delightful and assertive and proud and makes me want to read more of this story for more of these voices, connections and lives. Fans of Percy Jackson will absolutely love it, and new readers will be mesmerized by this imaginative and enticing world!
“A particularly good book has a way of opening new spaces in one’s mind. It even invited you to come back later and rummage through what you’d learn.”
Finally, can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Rick Riordan has apparently gotten tons of letters asking him to, “please write about Indian mythology! do the Maya mythology next!” and he was like, “those aren’t my stories to tell but let me find you own voices writers who CAN write these books for you so you get to see your culture represented and valued too!” and now this good dude is heading up his own imprint of more mythology books for kids and using his white privilege to enhance and empower the voices of authors from marginalized communities?
I respect one (1) man.